Forest Fire
Lyn Robinson


It had been a near perfect week; long warm dry days and work had gone well. Adam was on the west shore and he was able to leave the men to get on during the afternoons and spent his own time surveying for the second flume they were planning. He had virtually finished the preliminary work by the weekend. Jess arrived early on the Saturday morning, very much fitter he was fretting under the restrictions Ben still saw fit to place on him and he had volunteered to bring out a large bundle of reports that Ben thought would be of interest to his eldest son. The reports were mainly about their new bank and the first weeks of operation of the pipeline but there were also reports from both main mines and the stock market, where speculation was increasing to even more ridiculous levels. None of it needed any immediate action on Adam’s part, mainly just information, although in a few cases it might need action later. While Jess had a meal Adam glanced through the summaries of the reports getting the gist of things and then joined his friend for a chat.

They were drinking coffee and Jess had given Adam all the messages from his family when the clouds started building over the mountains. There was something in the atmosphere making the animals restive and Adam frowned, “I hope José is up at the herd, this could be a bad one.”

It was some time since they’d had an electric storm, the last really bad one was before his marriage, but on occasion everything seemed to combine and it could get very nasty. Jess wasn’t used to them and Adam explained. He had only seen them maybe ten times in the years since they’d come to the Ponderosa but this had all the ominous signs. A true electric storm with thunder and cloud to ground lightning compounded by a lack of rain, somehow the rain seemed to fall on the other side of the Sierras. After weeks of dry weather the main fear was fire.

Uneasy Adam went over to the telegraph and contacted his father to find Ben was well aware of the conditions and equally worried. Being Saturday many men had gone to town but he had everyone else out on watch. Joe had ridden up to join José and Stevens and help with the stock. Hoss was up at the main camp and as it had begum to build he had decided to stay and keep watch, rather than head home as planned. Adam promised to organise his men and get everything as ready as they could be, then all they could do was wait. If the worst happened then they could move to help as necessary.

Adam quickly briefed his men warning them what to watch for and what they might expect and with everyone uneasy the morning slipped by slowly. The electricity in the air could almost be felt and noone wanted very much lunch although Adam insisted that they eat, if there was trouble it could prove a very long night. They had barely finished when there was an almighty crack as a sheet of lightning hit the earth not far from the camp. Hitting bone dry undergrowth the fire started immediately and with a fairly strong wind it began to spread fast.

Adam was on Blackie, not wasting time saddling up and on his way to investigate almost before the fire took hold. It was only just over half a mile from the camp but by the time he arrived it already had a good hold. Jess pulled up by him, shielding his face from the heat of the blaze “What the hell do we do now?”

Adam was deep in thought, visualising the ground trying to work out how to minimize the inevitable damage. One thing was certain it was going to take time to put out and for now it cut him and his men off from the house, That thought reminded him of the telegraph and he pushed Blackie up to the nearest point on it and got Jess to hand him his portable kit. Unsure if the line was still intact he had to try and climbed the nearest tree. Obviously the line would go within minutes but a warning now might get through, rather than have to wait until the fire was spotted. To his relief he got his father at once and quickly spelt out the exact location of the fire and his proposed plan of action. He was hoping to contain the fire, it had struck close to a small promontory into the lake and was burning fiercely right down to the shoreline, cutting them off as the waters of the lake were deep with sheer cliffs just there, but the wind was blowing away from the lake up towards the mountain. If they could stop it spreading out either side the valley walls would act as a firebreak and the loss would be minimal. The valley went back quite a long way but it rose steeply and was very rocky with only scrubby timber, little worth cutting.  On his side Adam was reasonable confident he could hold the fire with the men he had but they had to fight it down by the lake and force a passage through before they could do anything to stop it spreading north. Even if Hoss sent help, and he was the nearest, it would take several hours and Adam didn’t know if there were any other fires. He’d outlined what he was trying and promised to do their best alone but warned that it was rapidly getting way out of control and they would need help. He was in the middle of asking if there was any further trouble when the wire went slack. Adam didn’t need telling the fire had reached some posts and they were cut off, thrown back on their own resources.

Adam scrambled back down to find most of the men had gathered, some of them not far from panic, seeing the fire blocking the way home. Adam called for attention and moved to squash panic first. “Right I have been in touch with my father and help is on its way. The telegraph is down now but it doesn’t matter, they know the position.” He turned to one young man, “Cheer up Toby. We’re hardly cut off you know. If the worst happened we could always ride home by the south of the Lake, but it’s a long ride so let’s try and avoid it.”

Adam kept deliberately cheerful to keep the men’s spirits up as he told them that they could keep the fire to the one small valley. He set most of the men to create a firebreak holding the fire on the south. He asked Jess to go back to the camp and very quietly pack all the papers in his tent, get them on one of the pack horses with as much of the rest of the equipment as the animals could carry. He didn’t want everyone panicking but it was a necessary move, if the fire got out of control it would reach the camp very quickly. Adam told Jess to slip away quietly and he did so, not missing Adam’s ulterior motive in saving him from the heavy work of slashing the undergrowth and digging ditches to form a firebreak, the earth their main tool in fighting the fire.

Adam called Jackson, Santee and Wilson over and leaving Wilson in charge of the main gang he took six men including Jackson and Santee and began trying to force his way through to the north. They had the water of the lake available and formed three short bucket chains, cutting a way through along the water’s edge. They tried to eliminate all combustible material to ensure the track stayed open. It was back breaking work and Adam lost all sense of time but slowly they began to see some signs of success from all their efforts.

Eventually they broke through to an area which the fire hadn’t touched and Adam left the men to catch their breath and ensure the immediate area was safe, while he tried to discover the extent of the damage, how far the fire stretched on the north. It was very difficult to see any distance as the smoke eddied around the wind dropping temporarily, but although there was a bulge to the north which could easily spread; Adam was pleasantly surprised to find most of the damage restricted to the one valley. A rocky outcrop had delayed the fire and although there were a few small patches to the north of it Adam was able to deal with those.

Adam hurried back to his men and got them spread out to try and prevent it going further north, promising help soon. He left Santee and Jackson at either end of the line, warning them to give way as necessary but deal with any fires jumping behind them. He went back to the south dealing with a few smouldering fires as he did so.

On the south a reasonable firebreak had been constructed and with the help of the wind blowing up towards the mountains it was holding.  The electric storm seemed to have faded away but with so much smoke in their own area it was impossible to see if there were any other major fires on the Ponderosa. Somehow Adam had dropped and lost his watch and he had no idea how long it would be before they could expect help, for now he had to assume that others might be equally busy and continue to fight the fire with their own resources. He found Jess with Wilson and the packhorses were ready. It made sense to move them with the bulk of the men to the north side where they could retreat towards the ranch as necessary. Everything seemed under control and Adam left six men with Jess and Wilson to watch the firebreak, deal with any attempts of the fire to broach it and send word if things looked like getting out of control, Then he took everyone else and the horses back to the north side to try and complete a similar firebreak there. Adam tied the horses up, well back from the flames, and then set everyone to work. At first it seemed impossible, the bulge in the line meant the ditch had to be considerably longer. The men were already tired but with the boss everywhere, working himself into the ground and assuring them that they could do it, it was impossible to give up and slowly they did make progress.

Filthy dirty and so tired, aching in every joint with several small burns from falling cinders, Adam eventually had the satisfaction of knowing they were holding it. The valley would go but very little else barring a change of wind and surely soon assistance would arrive. He moved the length of the line congratulating every man and encouraging them, before he left Santee in charge and worked his way back along the lake, the earth burnt and desolate with occasional bursts of fire that he had to deal with but passable. Adam wanted to check on the south firebreak, feeling vaguely uneasy

Ben had been worried when Adam got in touch and the destruction of the telegraph link had done nothing to ease his fears although it was hardly a surprise. At least his son had been able to give him a reasonable idea of the position and with quite a number of men with him, although only half the crew, he would probably cope. Ben swore momentarily, wondering why such things always happened at the weekend with half the men missing and then turned back to contact Hoss, that telegraph was still working. Someone had been listening in and had taken word to Hoss, He had his own problems, a small flash fire halfway along one of the flumes, just a single lightning strike not the full sheet lightning that Adam was contending with. Hoss was fairly sure that Sven and the five men with him would have it out shortly but it was difficult to be sure of priorities. Hoss had most of his men spread out at vantage points watching for trouble and if he pulled them in and moved to help Adam other equally disastrous fires could start without being spotted. Ben understood Hoss’ dilemma but from the brief account he’d had Adam would need help, he might be able to contain it temporarily but he hadn’t enough men to deal with it properly. Ben told Hoss to send eight men under Ericsson to help out now and keep the rest on watch, then barring emergencies once the storm had passed they could send further help.

There was noway that Ben could contact Joe but the smoke from the forest fire would be self-evident if it was as bad as Adam had indicated. Provided everything was under control Joe would take help but that wouldn’t be for a while. All Ben could do was wait, staring out of the window watching the smoke gathering, alert for any other major blazes. Then it suddenly struck him that Carole must be able to see the smoke too and would be worried. He called Hop Sing in and asked him to take any messages and then went and saddled Buck to go to Adam’s house.

 Uneasy at the whole atmosphere Nita and Sue had gone to join Carole and for a while they were kept busy with both children and animals upset. The two dogs not exactly helping howling their unease for all to know. Carole could only remember one such storm and she told Sue and Nita of Adam’s injury when he’d been burnt trying to save the winter feed and she had let Dan talk her into returning a borrowed book; Dan’s one successful foray into match making. It seemed a very long time ago. They had all spotted the fire shortly before Ben’s arrival and had placed it on the west shore, but none of them could tell where it was in relation to Adam’s camp. Sue tried to cheer Carole up, even if the fire was between Adam and the road, he could always get home round the south of the Lake. Carole smiled briefly but soon sunk back into her own thoughts, very much on edge and worried about her husband. She was slightly flustered with the children’s unease and not feeling at all well. Although grateful for her sisters’ company she was very glad to see Ben ride in, but the serious expression on his face didn’t make her feel any easier. Ben could see that she was upset and came straight over and put his arm round her shoulders. “Thought you might be worried. The telegraph is down now but Adam contacted me just before. He was fine, a plan of action ready. He was hoping to keep the fire contained in one valley and Hoss has already sent extra help.”

“Where is it Pa?”

“About half a mile this side of their camp, With the Lake water Adam can force a way through it tackle the north side of the fire. He said the wind was blowing from the Lake up towards the mountains.”

“If he can’t get through can he get round to the south?” Carole asked.

Ben hesitated but he’d never lied to her and wouldn’t start now. “Take a long time, a man could make it but I’m not so sure about a horse. There are two very bad stretches just off out land. On the other hand they have plenty of room to retreat if necessary until we can get more help out.”


“I have to wait until the storm passes before committing too many men. There may still be other major fires, Hoss has had a couple of small scale fires to deal with already.”

Carole knew that it made sense but she couldn’t help feeling scared and Ben could feel the tension in her, “Easy child. He’s had to deal with fires before and even now he’s not alone, more than twenty men with him. Try not to worry.”

Carole knew that she wasn’t being very logical but she had in a way come to Adam after a fire and she was scared that fate would decree she lost him the same way. She was feeling increasingly ill and scared for the baby, although hardly able to admit it even to herself. As so often she relied on her father-in-law’s calm strength and relaxed a little against him. Ben was sure that Hop Sing would send word of anything urgent and stayed with his daughters and at least his grandchildren enjoyed his attention and relaxed forgetting their fears.

By mid-afternoon it was fairly obvious that the worst of the storm had passed and after half an hour with no more lightning Ben pulled his coat on, “Right I’ll get back send Adam extra help now. I doubt there will be any more real trouble.”

Carole frowned wanting to ask Ben to go himself but unsure how fit he was. Ben knew her very well “Up to you Carole, I’ll take them over myself or I can send them under Jack Catfish, he’s a good friend of Adam’s and will get them there just as fast, I could come back and stay with you.”

“Are you well enough Pa?”

“I’m fine. I have no intention of actual fire fighting, just direct operations and send back word, but Adam and Hoss can do it equally well and I expect Joe will turn up with extra help.” Ben wanted to see for himself, learn the extent of the damage, but Carole looked so ill and worried maybe the best service he could do was to stay with her.

Carole smiled, a trifle tremulously, “Please go and help Adam.”

Sue moved closer to her, “We’ll help Carole with the children, try to stop her worrying too much.”

Nita with Marie in her arms nodded her agreement, so Ben with a swift kiss for each of his daughters hurried home to get things moving. Kirk already had all the fire fighting equipment they might need packed and ready along with spare blankets and medical supplies. Ben wasn’t surprised but it never did any harm to show his gratitude and he thanked Kirk and ordered the men he wanted to mount up, before going in to contact Hoss.

Hoss agreed that the worst was over but he had two more minor fires to deal with before he could go to his brother’s assistance. He wasn’t surprised to hear that his father was coming personally and didn’t waste time protesting. The telegraph was useful but hardly an appropriate medium for argument, which he knew from long experience he wouldn’t win anyway.

Joe was up with the horse herd. José and Stevens between them had the cattle as under control as possible, with the animals well spread out through the high country at this time of year. All the stock was obviously uneasy and with balls of lightning occasionally forming round horns it wasn’t surprising, but well separated the panic shouldn’t spread. There was little that anyone could do but watch for fires or signs of true panic and try to deal with either before they could spread. Any large scale stampede on the rough ground would lead to very heavy losses but Joe couldn’t see anything else to do that José hadn’t and he concentrated his own attention on the highly strung horses in the bloodstock herd. They were milling around uneasily but had nowhere to run to, heavy bars shutting off the entrance to the canyon and steep sides all around. The two chief stallions trumpeted their disapproval to the skies and despite the risk of trouble Joe couldn’t help grinning. Outlined by the pale rocks behind them the magnificent horses were quite a sight. Even Cochise was picking up the unease and Joe spoke to his horse, “Come on Cooch you’ve seen it all before. Nothing to panic over, we’re fine, just a storm.” He patted the horse and slowly Cochise calmed down.

All across the high country the men were kept busy, riding in to break up small groups of cattle who started to run, but the groups didn’t get big enough to re-infect each other with panic and no major problems developed, They only had one small fire to deal with, the short grass not spreading the fire very fast.

For a while Joe was fully occupied keeping the horses sufficiently quiet that they wouldn’t hurt themselves. He had assisted many of them into the world and broken them himself and they knew him, the sound of his voice as he called to them did seem to relax the horses. Down in the canyon Joe didn’t have too good a view and even when smoke rising in the sky came above his horizon and told of some major fire he had no real idea where it was, except that it was some way off. For now there was nothing he could do about it and he had to concentrate on his own job. Although he continued to call to the most excitable horses knowing them all by name, he couldn’t help glancing continually up at the growing clouds of smoke. As soon as he felt the herd was a little calmer he left then in the care of the four men he had with him and urged Cochise up the steep slope to the canyon rim, just accessible by the entrance. From there he had a much clearer view and soon pinpointed the blaze. He still couldn’t be sure exactly where it was but it was obviously on the far side of the lake and somewhere close to his brother’s camp. Joe stayed watching it for a few minutes letting Cochise recover from the climb and as he gave the horse some water Joe murmured, “Big brother has his work cut out for him this time and no mistake. He’s gonna need help old fellow, but we can’t go just yet, may still be trouble here.” Joe wanted nothing better than to let Cochise stretch his legs and go to Adam’s aid but his responsibility was here until the storm passed and that seemed to take forever.

Eventually a few animals began feeding again and Joe went in search of José. He found Stevens with the foreman and they had seen the blaze too. José assured Joe that he could manage with half the men. His crew was still at full strength, close enough to take Saturday evening and Sunday only, so it was just a case of forgetting their time off. Joe promised all the men that they would have a break as soon as things were under control. Then with Stevens and some twenty four men and such equipment they had available, Joe led out on the most direct route to connect with the road to the west shore. He pushed hard eager to get to his brother, even though other help was probably already on the way.

In fact Hoss was longer than he had expected, but he had to make sure everything was safe, and he met up with his father about two hours from the camp. The men he had sent earlier had already arrived and had been swiftly pulled into action by Santee and Jackson, helping the men on the northern firebreak but it was holding.

Adam had arrived back at the south firebreak mid-afternoon and he saw that his unease had a firm foundation. Four very scared men came to meet him, unsure what to do. They had been fighting the fire nearest the Lake and with everything seemingly under control Jess had left them to go and have a word with Wilson at the far end of the line. A sudden gust of wind had swirled the fire down towards then and once they had put out the small fires which had started they had realised a collapsing tree had carried the fire across the ditch and started a whole new line of fire cutting the four men further up the line from them and the Lake. They had been trying to fight it but were rapidly losing control and very glad to see Adam. While he listened Adam was making his way to this new danger. The four men were cut off with sheer walls behind and now fire on both sides, trapping them in the triangle in between. With just four men there was noway that Adam could fight this new fire as it almost greedily sucked up the fresh fuel. Very tired and scared for his friend it was an effort to sound confident but Adam forced himself to do so and assuring them that the path by the lake was safe he sent two back to Santee to collect more men and left the other two to watch for more flash fires. Then he pushed up along the new line of fire to see if there was any way to pull the four men out before they got completely trapped, scared it would prove fatal.

Jess and John Wilson had realised they were in some danger of being cut off at much the same time as the other four. They had been trying to deal with the new fire from the far side only to find it gaining on them all the time. They had given up temporarily and were trying to get out round the line of fire before they were cut off. There were rather larger trees here round the base of the cliffs at the entrance of the valley and it wasn’t easy to make their way through the tangled undergrowth. They weren’t far from Adam when one very large tree burning fiercely fell down right on the four men. Adam heard the screams of panic and for a minute the down draught caused by the tree’s fall beat down the solid wall of flames and he thought he could see someone. Without a thought for his own safety or the risks involved, he instinctively took advantage of the break in the flames and ran through to see if he could help. The first body he reached caught by the tress and already blackened by flames was obviously beyond help and a second close by was no better but he saw movement and managed to cut through the heavy branches with the axe he’d been carrying all afternoon. He pulled Jess clear and while his friend tried to get his breath Adam moved to free John Wilson trapped a little further back. As Adam cut him free more burning branches from the same tree caught up in a neighbouring tree suddenly fell, their support burnt through. The branches caught Adam across his back as he concentrated on his job and for a moment he was almost stunned by the blow on his neck but he managed to grab hold of the main burning branch in his left hand and throw it off but his shirt and his hair was on fire. Jess had seen what was happening but shaken, bruised and exhausted it took him time to act. He pulled off his jacket and smothered the flames putting Adam’s hair out quickly but it took time to deal with the burning shirt and vest. Adam’s back and neck were badly burnt as was his whole left hand. For a moment his whole body seemed to be one mass of agony but his brain was still working and he forced himself to straighten up and finish what he’d started, cutting through the last pieces to free John. Then as Jess helped John up Adam, his voice little more than a croak, insisted “Must move.”

It was very obvious they couldn’t stay where they were, the heat of the fire was so intense it seemed to suck every scrap of oxygen from the air and they could hardly breathe. The fallen giant and the fire it had started cut them off from the direction Jess and John had been going and the only chance was to head straight for the canyon wall. None of them were capable of clear thought, all near exhaustion and in pain the three men stumbled onwards, the will to live the only thing keeping them on their feet. With every movement he made Adam had stabs of pain from his burnt back, but to give up and stay still meant death and he had sufficient grip on consciousness to know that.

How long they stumbled on, the fire seemingly following them, none of them knew, but eventually they couldn’t go any further reaching the bottom of a cliff with bare rock stretching above them. John sank down “That’s it, no chance, fire, both sides.”  He stared along the cliff face and could see the fire had already reached into the valley on one side and was licking at the cliff a little way further along on the other. Just a small triangle of unburnt ground in front of them obviously destined to go in the next hour and them with it. He was so very tired, with cracked ribs paining him, that John was almost glad to give up fighting, just accept it and pray it would be over fast. Adam couldn’t just give in; it had been left out of his makeup. He stared at the cliff face seemingly unbroken for some thirty feet above their heads and then a small ledge appeared which slanted upwards widening out further up. He croaked “Got to get to that ledge.”

Jess looked up where Adam was pointing but it looked as distant as the moon, no obvious foot or handholds, especially as looked at his friend’s badly burnt back and hand, Adam saw the disbelief on their faces and he gestured at the fire. “No choice. Try. Rather die trying, fall off.  Won’t just give up.”

Jess saw the determination on Adam’s face and made a swift reconnaissance along the stretch of rock available to them. He had done some climbing but without any tools except for Adam’s axe and no ropes he didn’t think it was possible. Still Adam was right they were doomed anyway so there was nothing to lose. He didn’t have time to do more than a rough check and at one place there were at least half a dozen slight holds to get them partway if they were lucky. It was probably hopeless especially for Adam but the only possibility.

Jess indicated where he thought he could see holds and took the axe from Adam, he might be able to chip out more but it was very long odds and even if he could make it, Jess just didn’t see how Adam could with his left fingers and palm raw apart from his badly hurt back. Adam was almost light-headed with the pain but he tried to ignore it and told Jess to lead the way, he was the climber. Jess glanced over at Wilson who slowly shook his head, agreeing there was no chance, but then managed a smile “Can’t lose anything.”

Jess studied his friend’s face for a long minute not trusting his voice but then Adam smiled at him, “Go on Jess, we’ll make it.”

Jess couldn’t understand how Adam could sound so calm and confident with the agony that was obvious in his eyes and their current position which he was too intelligent not to understand, but somehow it helped. Slowly Jess began to make his way up, spread-eagled on the cliff, clinging with his fingertips to the small fissures and jutting pieces of rock, just occasionally able to use the axe to enlarge one. There were more handholds than there had appeared from below and fit with proper equipment Jess knew that he could have made the climb relatively, easily unfortunately neither of these applied. Twice he all but gave up, only Adam’s calm certainty seemed to drive him on, until some time later he rolled over onto the narrow ledge, relatively safe for now at least but positive that Adam with his injuries couldn’t make it and without rope there was no way he could help. At first Jess could only lay still his shoulder muscles screaming in agony at the use made of them in the climb as too often he’d hung on, desperately scrabbling for a foothold, little more than the friction of his body against the rock face and the purchase of his fingertips keeping him on the cliff. Slowly Jess got his breath back and he went to look over the edge so scared for his friend. The fire was considerably closer but for a minute Jess couldn’t make sense of things. There was no sign of the two men where he had left them. It was impossible they had nowhere to go and for a minute he just stared before looking along the length of the rock face where the fire hadn’t reached, only to have his attention caught by a movement on the rock face where he’d climbed up. About halfway up and moving very slowly and tentatively was John Wilson but what really amazed Jess was the second figure only a third of the way up and moving even slower but somehow Adam was making progress. Jess couldn’t move, there was noway he could help and he didn’t even seem capable of prayer, but if willpower could get Adam up that cliff Jess was willing his every move. He seemed to remember each section every handhold and willing Adam to make each move, trying to warn him of the dangers, barely even noticing Wilson as he forced his way up.

After Jess had gone there had been a slight argument between Adam and John, John wanted to bring up the rear Adam had been hurt helping him and it seemed the least he could do. Adam wouldn’t hear of it, severely practical he pointed out that there was noway any of them could help each other. Jess was blazing the trail as best he could but without ropes each climb had to be a solo effort and with his injuries his chances were the worst and he would be inevitably slow, maybe too slow. With fire approaching Adam insisted that John start up as soon as Jess had moved up a little way and moved himself as soon as John was off the lowest handholds.

Several times in his climb John was ready to give up, he couldn’t do it even if Jess had made it this far. He wasn’t used to climbing, his ribs hurt him and he was scared, but glancing down and seeing Adam following him he couldn’t give up. If Adam could climb with such bad burns then he could do it too and with the enlarged holds Jess had made he slowly edged his way on upwards.

Adam’s back was on fire, sending shafts of agony and bright lights dancing in front of his eyes with each movement and he was close to screaming with the pain in his left hand as the burnt flesh was torn by the rocks but he forced himself to ignore it. His limbs obeyed him and pain could be lived through, ahead of him as though in a mirage he could always see Carole and his children. He had too much to live for just to give up. He was forced to take rests whenever he felt reasonably stable to ease his left hand, but then he always edged on upwards, very slowly, oblivious of the fire and the other men, only aware of the pain, the next handhold and Carole.

By the time John reached the top and Jess’ help for the last couple of feet Adam was just about halfway up. Once John had got his breath back he looked down almost in awe “I don’t know how he’s keeping going with those burns. Is there any chance?”

Jess shrugged “I didn’t think any of us had one! Adam’s bullied us into getting up here. Obviously there’s noway he can climb with those injuries, except he’s doing it. All we can do is pray.”

Weakened by the pain Adam was getting even slower every movement a conscious effort and he wasn’t helped by the rapidly fading light but somehow he kept going, while the men above could only wait and pray. After a seeming eternity he was near enough to the top for Jess to reach down and grab his right arm and then the belt of his trousers. John steadied him and Jess almost bodily hauled Adam up onto the ledge. Adam fell face down, barely conscious, blood dripping from his damaged left hand, fighting for breath. Despite the heat of the fire which had almost reached the cliff below, he was shivering with the cold of shock, delayed reaction, having well over taxed his body. There was a roaring in his ears and it took a while for some of it to subside and for him to realise the remaining noise came from the fire licking at the cliff just below the ledge. It lit up the surrounding area with a reddish hue, dark now and a moonless night, with just the flickering erratic light of the fire, Adam forced himself to sit up nursing his left hand to him “Not safe yet, must move up.”

Jess frowned uncertain if he could carry his friend on the uneven ground and John couldn’t really help with cracked ribs himself. Adam recognized the look “Got this far. I can walk. Lead on.”

Between them Jess and John helped Adam to his feet and then slowly and painfully the three men edged up the narrow ledge until they were well above the fire with sheer rock walls protecting them. Then in a flattish area Adam gave way and sunk down resting on his right side and slipped into either sleep or unconsciousness, Jess wasn’t sure which. John was little better off and without water or medical supplies there was nothing Jess could do and he dozed uneasily as he lay next to Adam. It was mid-evening before Ben and Hoss rode in with the fresh men. With no sign of Adam for several hours Santeé and Jackson were both very relieved to see someone to take charge and relieve them of the responsibility. At first it was difficult to make any sense out of the seeming chaos, smoke and dust hanging heavily in the air, reducing visibility and all the men filthy and unrecognizable but they all recognized Hoss’ unmistakable form and even raised a cheer at the arrival of help,

Ben was hastily scanning the figures he could see looking for his eldest son, over the last part of the ride he’d had a fear of trouble. Although he hadn’t even mentioned it to Hoss, not wanting further confirmation and seeing something in his big son’s eyes. Hoss was equally busy looking for Adam he’d become convinced his eldest brother was in pain, but failing to spot Adam he did see Jackson and beckoned him over. Ben forced a smile “You’ve all done a magnificent job. Take us a few minutes to see exactly what’s happening and then we can take the pressure off you. Where is Adam?”

Jackson shrugged “Ain’t seen him for a while, lose track of time. Maybe up with Chris Santeé, far end of this line or he might have gone back to the south firebreak. Don’t know what’s happening there. We were holding it.”

Hoss passed Jackson his canteen, “You’ve done just fine. We have enough men to cope now, more on the way. Take it easy.” He turned to his Pa, “I’ll take my men and spread them out along this line, check with Santeé.”

“Fine. The rest of us will go to the south line.” Ben turned back to Jackson “Passage by the lake clear?”

“Was last I heard.”

Hoss was already ordering his men to tie their mounts back in safety and collect equipment. As he tied Chub up he saw his brother’s black stallion with piles of paper by it and for a moment he fussed Blackie asking the horse the question he didn’t dare ask anyone else, “Just where’s your master old fella and more important is he alright?” Hoss lent his aching head against the horse’s warm strength for a moment so scared for Adam, almost sure that his brother was hurt. It was no good telling himself he couldn’t know they had all proved time and time again these feelings had a basis in fact however they arose. For now Hoss could summon up no faith that his brother was even alive. That scared him ore than anything and he couldn’t even admit it, his father looked worried enough. Hoss tried to shake off his fears he was just tense and tired after the storm and at least he could busy himself getting his men organized.

Hoss found Santeé up at the far end, very relieved to have help. but all he could say was that Adam had intended going to check on the south once it was obvious they were holding here. He could only say that it was mid-afternoon, several hours ago. Hoss frowned seeing how tired Santeé but the fear for his brother was still there, “Can you carry on for a while? Plenty of men now. As soon as I’ve checked with Adam I’ll be back take over.”

Santeé could see the fear the big man couldn’t hide and one thing he’d learnt since his arrival on the ranch was just how close the family was and despite his near exhaustion he grinned, “Sure Hoss no rush, be easy with more men.”

Hoss was grateful and let it show before hurrying back to join his father and hopefully Adam, In fact Ben hadn’t progressed very far, the wind had changed direction with some freak in the fire conditions and just for a short distance the flames were swirling back down towards the shore, a patch of unburnt land. The two men Adam had sent for help had retreated from the flames and rejoined their colleagues. With their boss disappearing and cut off the four had retreated from the fire, just putting out any small subsidiary fires and poised for flight round the south of the lake. Only the realisation of how far it was and the lack of horses kept them there, almost incapable of thought they were just waiting for something to happen.

Hoss joined his father and quickly filled him in on what Santeé had said, before putting all his efforts into breaking through the fire. Even so it was more than half an hour before they reached the south side. There they saw instantly that the firebreak had been breached and the fire was out of control, working along the base of the cliff. Only the wind blowing the fire against the cliff was saving the rest of the woods and it would soon reach one of the main valleys where they had been planning a flume. The valley would be destroyed unless they acted fast. For moment Hoss hesitated, “Adam?”

Ben bit his lip “I don’t know. I’ll find out, but don’t waste time, get it stopped before the valley. Leave me two men.”

Hoss knew his father was right and leaving Red and Jack Catfish with is father he took the others to try and establish a new firebreak, working against time as the fire inexorably worked its way along the cliff. At least he was so busy he hadn’t any time to worry about his brother.

Ben saw the four men working to put out a small fire started by falling cinders, they were almost like automatons, seemingly unaware that help had arrived and none of them were known to him. Once he had known every hand personally but now with several hundred men on the books, many of them temporary hands on the lumber projects, most were just names. Leaving Red and Jack Catfish to look around for anything which might help Ben went over to the men. They stood up and stared at him for a moment as though he was some sort of apparition, Ben introduced himself unsure they knew him and asked if they had seen his son.

None of them would meet his eye and one rather shamefaced said, “We did try Mr Cartwright but flames right down to the lake, we couldn’t break through.”

“I’m not surprised, took us a while.” Ben offered them a drink, “Where is my son?”

The man who’d spoken before wiped his lips after drinking greedily. “He was here, went along to the end of the fire, try to pull the others out but we ain’t seen him since.”

“The others?”

“Four of them behind that.” the man gestured at the wall of fire, “Got cut off and with cliffs behind....”

Ben bit his lip trying to take in the situation, very scared for Adam, “Who?”

“Jess, John Wilson and those two Mexes, Pancho Rivala and his mate Rafael something.”

It was obvious the four scared men couldn’t tell him anymore but knowing Jess was trapped he knew his eldest son would have risked a lot to try and save his friend and the other men. The feeling of disaster that had been with him for hours was reinforced. The four men had obviously been taxed almost beyond their limits and Ben took them back to the Lake shore, checked it was still clear and sent them back to safety. He vaguely thought of sending a note for more help but forgot all about it as Jack came up very solemn, with something in his hand. It was Adam’s watch, the strap burnt although the watch was still working and he’d found it on the firebreak and recognised it even before checking the inscription. It was the one Carole had given him, but after his first surge of fear Ben calmed down and fingered the watch, he pointed out that Adam could have dropped it at anytime, catching it on something and breaking the strap during the hard work of building the firebreak.

Jack was worried about his boss and insisted Ben had a drink of brandy, trying to reassure him “Cheer up Mr Cartwright Adam is indestructible, we’ll find him.”

Ben nodded but with the only light that from the fire, giving everything a ghastly glow, he couldn’t help wondering if Jack was being too optimistic, rare though that fault was for an Indian. For a few minutes they had to concentrate on putting out another small fire and by the time that was done and Ben could again think of sending for extra help, it was already approaching. Joe had quickly discovered where his family were and as everything seemed under control on the north side he’d brought all his men through in case they were needed.

Joe had just taken in the extent to which his men were needed when his father came over to him “Hoss is trying to stop it reaching the valley over there.” Joe nodded and sent his men off under Stevens to join his brother and help. Then he gently took his father’s arm and forced him to sit down on a convenient rock. “Pa I know you’re better but you aren’t up to this sort of strain, you should have stayed home.”

“I’d rather know what is happening Joseph. We don’t know where Adam is.”

Joe sat down next to his father and put his arm round him feeling the tension and listened quietly as Ben filled him in on the little he did know. Joe stared at the wall of flames licking at the sheer cliffs for as far as he could see and for a moment he found it hard to breathe, so scared for his brother. Like Hoss he was unable to raise any conviction that Adam was still alive. Then feeling the increased tension in his father, knowing he wasn’t strong, Joe forced himself to get control knowing Ben was reacting to his mood. “They’ll have got out Pa, resourceful pair Jess and Wilson to say nothing of Adam. They may be with Hoss right now.”

Ben shook his head, “Hoss would have sent word.” Still he felt slightly easier at his son’s confidence, forced though he knew it to be. For the moment all they could do was to deal with the fire and keep a close eye out for anything which might indicate what had happened to Adam.

Hoss slowly got the fire under control, helped by the extra men Stevens brought and even began moving forward along the cliff. Joe had four men to watch and deal with small outbreaks, insisting his father rested and when the fire began to die down along the cliff he left Jack and the other three to cope and went to join Hoss. The fire was still raging in the small valley but outside it was dying down, even along the cliff, all combustible material had been devoured. The whole area was hot and dusty small outbreaks still bursting out as the wind ruffled the surface but slowly the Ponderosa hands moved across it spreading earth and water from the Lake until they were lined up across the entrance to the valley. Now the only real risk was a change if wind and even then the fire would have to cross already devastated land before reaching fresh fuel and they had enough men to hold it. Ben had long ago decided that all they could do was to leave the valley to burn itself out. The damage from the fire wasn’t that extensive, much of the area destroyed was valueless anyway and Ben wouldn’t have cared if it had been very valuable. The only thing that was mattered was his son and as midnight approached there was still no indication where Adam was.

Joe and Hoss had avoided discussing the subject as they fought the fire. There was nothing they could do but as the evening drew to a close, very dark without even the light from the fire, the brothers stood back to consider events. They couldn’t help looking over at their father, worry and tension evident in the set of his shoulders. Joe tried to get some contact with Adam, some reassurance that his brother lived. When they had been trapped down the mine he’d known that Adam was hurt and terrified but this time it was even worse, it was just blank, nothing at all and he was scared the reason for that was that his brother was no longer alive. He’d done his best to hide that fear from his father, but now alone with Hoss he couldn’t bottle it up any longer. He turned to Hoss gripping his big brother’s arm almost painfully, “Do you think he’s alive?”

Hoss could sense the intensity and tension in Joe, even though he couldn’t see the expression on his brother’s face. “Easy Joe.”

“You haven’t answered me.”

Hoss couldn’t lie to his brother, they knew each other too well and there was no way to avoid the direct question. Hoss put his arm round his little brother “I don’t know, wish I did. I always thought I’d know, but since late this afternoon I ain’t been sure either way.”

Joe pulled away “It’s just blank, nothing. When you were trapped I could feel his fear, but there’s not even that.”

“I know Joe, but maybe it just means he’s asleep.”

“All this time?”

Hoss shrugged, he was as scared as Joe. “I can’t feel he’s dead either.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“I don’t know Joe, don’t say nothing to Pa.

“Of course not, he’s scared enough anyway, I’m sure he feels the same as we do.”

“We’d better join him.” Hoss sighed heavily “God it’s so dark, we’ll never find anything until dawn.” He straightened his shoulders “Come on little brother, Pa ain’t strong enough for all this, let’s at least try and help him.”

There was little that even his younger sons could do to help Ben, overtired, he had about given up hope for Adam. He just sat holding his son’s watch, unable to sleep and not wanting to talk, remembering the times he’d relied on his son and in many ways his best friend, mourning for him as they awaited the dawn, when they might be able to find something definite.

Ben had sent a message back to the house to confirm that all three of them were there and the fire would soon be under control, but he’d had to say that they hadn’t made contact with Adam so he knew that it wouldn’t help Carole. The messenger had gone hours ago, but with no definite news he had put off sending a further message.

At the house Sue was getting increasingly worried about Carole and about two hours after Ben left she bullied Carole into going to bed as she looked so ill. It was about all Carole felt fit for, bad pains in her back and legs had brought a new fear for the baby that she was carrying, apart from the desperate fear that Adam was dead. Sue left Nita to look after the children while she helped Carole to bed. It was lucky she did for Carole had a slight show of blood and already tense and scared, the seemingly imminent miscarriage was the last straw and she was close to hysteria. Sue spoke sharply to her, that wasn’t going to do her or the baby any good and it certainly wouldn’t help Adam. Carole broke down and sobbed out her fears on Sue’s shoulder. Always before she had had an inner conviction that Adam would be fine regardless how black circumstances looked but now suddenly she’d lost it and without even knowing if there was any real trouble she felt sure he was badly hurt, if not dead. A fire from an electric storm had brought them together and now another was taking him away. Sue slowly calmed her down; pointing out that she wasn’t usually six months pregnant, overtired, with three frightened children. Sue insisted that Adam would be fine and if he came home tired out and maybe even hurt, it wasn’t going to help him to find that Carole had lost their baby. With ten weeks to go it was too soon, but as Sue could feel the baby kicking she convinced Carole that there was no need for her to lose it, she just had to relax and rest. She had been overdoing things and if she took it easy could carry to full term. Almost imperceptibly Sue slipped back into the way she had perfected as a nurse handling scared patients. As she seemed to know what she was talking about Carole relaxed fractionally, feeling better for a cry.

Sue went to get her some coffee and briefly explained the situation to Nita, asking her to get someone to go for Doc, just to be on the safe side. Nita was scared but knowing that wouldn’t help anything she hid it and assured Sue that she would do that and could look after the children. Doc arrived before the messenger from Ben and he smiled down at Carole, “Not like you young lady. Come on now let’s have a look at you.”

They were old friends and Carole relaxed as Doc reassured her, the baby was fine but she had been overdoing it. He ordered her to rest in bed for four days and then he would come and see how she was, but she would have to take it easy for the next couple of weeks at least. Doc shrugged off any suggestion that Adam was in trouble, her husband was quite capable of looking after himself and if Hoss and her father were there too he’d be fine. She was just suffering from an overactive imagination and an overtired body. He gave her a sedative and sat with Carole until she had dozed off.

However as he joined Sue and Nita he asked “How bad is that fire?”

Sue shrugged “We don’t really know. It’s between Adam’s camp and home and the telegraph was damaged by it so we can only wait for news.”

“I’ll make sure I can be contacted quickly if I’m needed but Adam will cope as always. How about you two, you’re both pregnant too. I’ve ordered Carole to stay in bed for the next few days, she’ll be fine once Adam gets home, but I don’t want you two overdoing it either.”

Nita smiled “We’ll be fine. Kam Su and the others will help and we’ll look after Carole, Sue’s the expert and I’m getting good at following orders.”

Doc left a supply of sedative to ensure Carole got a decent night’s sleep and suggested a half dose wouldn’t do either of them any harm, especially if the alternative was lying awake worrying. Then he headed back to town, all three of the boys had chosen well, Ben was very lucky in his daughters and they would look after each other. He just hoped Adam was alright.

High up on the cliffs, bathed in a red flickering light from the fire in the valley, Jess could only doze uneasily, still hardly believing that Adam had made that climb. It became increasingly obvious that they weren’t safe yet, twice burning branches were blown onto the ledge and Jess had to put out the fires they caused. Adam felt cold to his friend’s touch, shivering violently from time to time and Jess guessed that Adam had pushed himself into shock with all his exertions. The dim light hid the extent of the damage at least partially but Adam moaned occasionally as the pain caught him and without water there was little Jess could do. Adam had saved their lives twice over, risking his own without thought, first by cutting them free and then by bullying them up the impossible climb. He was paying heavily for his efforts but Jess was determined to keep him alive and the first necessity for all of them was water. When Jess shook himself awake for the third time and found a fire beginning to establish itself blocking their path, Jess made up his mind. He had quite a struggle to deal with the fire but finally put it out and then he woke John and in a voice which was little more than a croak, explaining why they had to move on. John seeing the burnt grass could only agree but he gestured at Adam “We can’t carry him, can’t leave him.”

“He can walk. I won’t let him die, owe him too much.” Jess knelt down by Adam and very gently but insistently shook his friend, bullying him into waking up. It seemed to take forever and even when Adam did open his eyes they were unseeing. He was only aware of the pain and his maltreated body’s insistence that he lay still and rest, but slowly he took in the fact that someone was desperately anxious for him to get up and walk. Barely conscious and with no real idea who was there or where he was, Adam did his very best to do as he was asked and slowly he made it to his feet with the two men helping and leaning heavily on Jess he forced his legs to obey him and they inched their way on up to the mesa. Jess was hoping to find both safety from the fire and a mountain stream. There was noway to go back and in order to reach help they had to get round the head of the valley and back down the far side to join up with the north firebreak crew. Jess pushed away all thought of how far it was with a badly injured man and another barely capable of getting along unaided. For now the problem of each step forward was more than enough and his only real objective was to find water. Then he might be able to do something about Adam’s burns and anyway all of them desperately needed to drink. Occasionally John sank down to rest but Jess half bullied, half cajoled Adam onwards, scared that if Adam collapsed again he wouldn’t be able to get him back on his feet. Water was becoming increasingly important as with the effort Adam began to run a high temperature, muttering incomprehensibly from time to time and leaning very heavily on Jess. Not that Jess could do that much, not daring to touch his friend’s damaged back, he could only hold Adam’s right arm round his own shoulders and do what he could to take his weight and steady him.

Once John having caught up with them again touched Jess’ arm, “How much further? You’re gonna kill him.”

“We need water, he’s burning up.”

John felt Adam’s forehead and had to agree. Ignoring his own aches and pains he forged ahead looking for water. Adam had saved his life, the least he could do was minimise his agony, find some water. Some time later when Jess had about given up on him John reappeared out of the dim light of dawn, “Found a stream not far.”

It was only a couple of hundred yards but even so at the pace Adam could make, it seemed to take forever. Several times John went back to the stream and damped his neckerchief tying it round the injured men’s forehead after wiping his face. It seemed to help for a few minutes but Adam soon sunk back into delirium. In the uncertain light of the early dawn not helped by heavy cloud cover all the two men could do was to help Adam lie down on his front and keep cold compresses on his forehead. At least they had left the fire behind and with cold clear mountain water from melted water they could be sure it was clean. Jess was determined to clean up the injuries they’d all suffered, especially Adam, before blood poisoning compounded their problems.

Jess tried to work out where they were, he had only really been interested in finding water, turning round all obstacles. He thought they’d veered south from the valley rim, but he didn’t know the area too well and everything looked different from up here. Then Adam moaned and Jess forgot about that problem and turned his attention to his friend. John was asleep, breathing stentoriously after all his efforts, in pain himself from broken ribs and Jess felt very alone as he stared down at the mess he had to somehow treat, showing up so very clearly in the light of dawn. Adam, unconscious, had reacted to minimise the pain and he had his left arm lying out in front of him, the palm and the fingers burnt badly and in one place the bone was showing where the flesh had been torn away in the long climb. His whole back was black and torn, clotted blood burnt skin and cloth with fragments of wood and dirt. Jess stared as though mesmerized, knowing it was far beyond his knowledge and ability but there was noone else. He knew it might be a long time before they could reach help and it couldn’t just be left. Not thinking too clearly himself Jess had to force himself to leave Adam and wash himself up as best he could, washing his own shirt to have at least something to put over the burns, protect them from the sun, He put his shirt to dry over a bush and then knelt down by Adam, thankful that he was unconscious. However when Jess, as gently as he knew how, pulled away the remnants of Adam’s shirt, Adam’s whole body tensed and he screamed as the agony caught him deep in unconsciousness. The noise woke John and he came over, his attention divided between Jess who was very white and looked sick and the injured man. Almost for the first time he saw just how extensive the burns were and licking his lips he couldn’t help the question, “How the hell did he get this far?”

Jess couldn’t answer it was something he’d been asking himself. John frowned “We can’t clean that, needs a Doc.”

“I don’t see anyone else and we sure as hell can’t leave it like that.”

John had no answer for that and steeling themselves the men set to work. John held Adam still while Jess slowly cleaned up the burns, easing off dead burnt skin and clearing the dirt burnt cloth and wood not always sure just what it was. He began very tentatively but it had to be done and Jess worked steadily trying not to think about the blood Adam was losing. All he could do was wait for the blood to clot; at least it would remove any dirt he had left behind. Eventually it was done and although Adam’s back was covered in blood, it didn’t look quite as terrifying and it was clotting. Several times it had taken their combined efforts to hold him still and he’d screamed in pain but at least he hadn’t come round fully, Jess sat back and stared at Adam’s raw hand, “Guess I’d better finish it.”

“Looks clean, it’s bled enough to clean it up. He can’t take much more leave it alone.” John counselled and Jess had to admit Adam’s breathing was very fast, his pulse erratic and maybe he’d had all he could take. Having decided to leave it Jess had an inevitable reaction and he was very sick and then washed his face in the stream.

John was clumsily cleaning himself up but then he asked “What do we do now?”

Jess shrugged “He’s not going anywhere, least for a while.”

“One of us go and fetch help?”

“How? Do you know where we are?”

“Not really.”

“That fire is still burning, I can see the smoke and noone will be leaving until they’ve found Adam, Someone from his family will be here by now, that’s for sure. They’ll be looking for him and us. Reckon we’d better stay with him.”

“Can’t we signal them?” John suggested.

“What with? We all left our guns with the horses and even if I had matches I don’t somehow fancy lighting a fire.”

John could only agree and it was obvious that someone would have to stay with Adam and do what they could for him, even if it was only changing cold compresses. Neither of them were fit and had to get some rest too so maybe the safest thing was to wait for help to arrive. Both men knew the family well enough to be sure that they wouldn’t leave without finding Adam. Weakened by fresh loss of blood and pain as Jess cleaned him up Adam was quiet, he’d slipped into a coma. At least he was lying still, too deeply unconscious for delirium. Apart from slipping the dry shirt over the clotted blood to try and protect him a little, Jess and John couldn’t do anything and dozed as they sat by him just occasionally changing cold compresses.

Back at the house the first messenger had arrived but it didn’t really help and Sue had insisted on Carole taking another dose of the sedative Doc had left and resting. Neither she nor Nita fancied the idea of drugging themselves but it was difficult to settle. They tried to convince themselves that no news was good news, at least nothing disastrous had happened but it wasn’t easy. They found it easier to stick together and used one of the twin bedded rooms to doze uneasily, relieved when the children woke and they at least had something to do. Carole slept late, saved a few anxious hours as they waited for more news, and Sue was able to reassure Nita that as no further symptoms had appeared there was a good chance of avoiding the threatened miscarriage.

Ben had ordered the men to repair the telegraph line, knowing Carole would be waiting anxiously for news but for now he had none and the three Cartwrights could only wait for the dawn. They were all praying in the light they’d find some clue, all with the same almost unmentionable fear in their hearts and the hours seemed never ending. Hoss had begged his father to try and sleep but Ben couldn’t, not until he knew what had happened to his eldest son. He was much better; there was no need to worry about him. Joe was too restless to settle and continually checked along the line, talking to everyone who could tell him anything about the situation on the south side when they’d left it. Where Wilson and Jess would have been, trying to visualize the situation that would have faced his brother, trying to imagine what Adam would have done. It didn’t really help, but at least when dawn finally arrived Joe had a fair idea of the area most likely to tell them something. With Hoss he collected a dozen men to search the area between the point where the tree had breached the firebreak and the cliff. Both of them insisted that their father take it easy but Ben couldn’t just sit and wait so he busied himself arranging the fire-fighters into sections, to watch the valley, getting others to organize breakfast even if food was the last thing he personally wanted. He did at least have the satisfaction of completing the repair of the telegraph line and contacted Hop Sing. For now there was no news but he promised to get in touch as soon as they knew anything and suggested that Hop Sing not worry the girls until they knew a little more.

It was only a matter of time until the comprehensive search revealed the two bodies. Stevens found them and he called Joe over as he was nearest. He had a pretty fair idea just how hard it was going to hit Joe and sent the only other man who was close to find Hoss and then positioned himself between Joe and the ugly figures, twisted blackened and unrecognizable in death.

Joe frowned, not recognizing the expression on the older man’s normally impassive face. Stevens put a hand on Joe’s arm ready to steady him if necessary. “Joe Cartwright I’ve seen you make hard decisions, face the facts square, maybe never anything as hard as this. Two dead here, unrecognizable.”

Joe shuddered but, although he lost all trace of colour, he was steady and he moved forward to stare down at the two bodies. For a moment he couldn’t move and then he knelt down and tired to lift the covering timber which crumpled at his touch. Almost like a madman he pushed it aside, desperate to see the bodies. The first body was obviously too small to be Adam but as he cleared enough to see the second one Joe stared mesmerized. It was impossible to judge accurately Jess was perhaps the smallest of the other four but he was only a couple of inches shorter than Adam, with John and Pancho in between them. Joe just didn’t know how to tell whose body it was. How long he stared at it trying to see something that would show who it was Joe didn’t know but eventually he felt hands on his shoulders and looking up he saw Hoss, shock mirrored on his big brother’s face. Joe got to his feet slowly, “I just don’t know Hoss. I don’t know.” Joe stumbled away and he was desperately sick, retching helplessly on an almost empty stomach.

For a minute Hoss wasn’t in any state to help his brother, like Joe he stared down at the grotesque, almost monstrous, twisted shape. It seemed impossible to believe Adam had come to this but logic said it could equally well be him as any of the other three, or that more bodies would be found. Hoss couldn’t even pray for a minute and he didn’t know how he was going to tell his father. At that thought Hoss turned and followed Joe, he couldn’t find words and just passed his brother a canteen. Joe poured the water over his head “Sorry!”

“Don’t be daft little brother.” Hoss led Joe away “That little one has to be Raphael, good chance that’s Pancho. They were always inseparable.”

“Even if.... maybe more.”


For a minute the brothers stared at each other in silence then Hoss called Stevens to get the men to continue searching, “We have to know one way or another.”

“Do you?”

Hoss shook his head, “Don’t even seem human, let alone Adam but..... Oh God.” Hoss buried his face in his hands, shocked and scared.

Word had quickly spread along the line of men that something had been found. And Ben picked it up and hurried along to join his sons and find out what had happened. He saw them sitting close together on a rock as though for comfort, despair very evident in the set of their shoulders and for a moment Ben couldn’t move, a cold lump in his throat seemed to prevent breathing, but he had to know and he forced his limbs to move and went over to join them. Hoss had his face buried in his hands while Joe was staring unseeingly at his feet and for a moment neither registered Ben’s arrival. Ben searched his youngest son’s drawn white face and for a moment Ben accepted that his eldest son was dead, but he had to know for sure and he moved closer “Joseph?”

Joe looked up, almost surprised to see his father there and at first he couldn’t find his voice. Then, remembering Ben’s recent illness, Joe swallowed hard and got to his feet, “Come and sit down Pa.

Ben did as Joe asked and only then did Hoss lift his head and register his father’s presence. Ben gripped Joe’s arms “I have to know Joseph, just tell me.”

Joe bit his lip, “It’s not that easy Pa. We’ve found two bodies but they’re unrecognizable.” He fell quiet but both brothers searched their father’s face. Ben was very pale but well in control as he considered the missing men, five in all.

Hoss broke the silence, “One is Raphael, too small to be any of the others, chances are its Pancho with him. Men still searching.”

Joe forced himself to meet his father’s gaze, “We’re guessing Pa. Could be any of them, noway to be sure. It could be Adam.”

Ben frowned deep in thought and then to his sons’ surprise a faint smile curved his lips, “You both saw the body?”

Hoss straightened his shoulders with an effort “Yeah Pa but Joe’s right, ain’t noway to tell, could be any of ’em, barely looks human.” He hated saying it but there was no point in giving Ben false hopes.

Ben sounded very confident as he told them “If you both saw it and you don’t know its Adam then it isn’t. You would know somehow, I don’t care what logic says, you’d feel it.”

Joe and Hoss looked at each other, unsure, wanting to believe Ben but .... Eventually Joe pulled away and turned his back, not daring to face his father or brother and said, “”I always thought I’d know. We do, all of us, call it telepathy; call it what you will, but we know. If someone is in trouble, hurt, in pain or just scared, unhappy. I don’t know how it works, I just know it does.” He turned back to face them “For all or us. When Adam and Hoss were trapped I could feel his fear, near panic, before I even heard about the cave-in. When he was kidnapped and didn’t get back for weeks we all felt he was alive, whatever the facts said. But now there’s nothing, it’s just blank. Has been since yesterday,” Joe’s voice was so quiet that Ben had to strain to hear. “Blank Pa, maybe that’s all it is. Hoss says he can’t feel he’s dead but I’m so scared that like me, he won’t believe it just because Adam means so much to us.” Joe’s shoulders sagged even lower, “I’m scared he’s dead, for the first time in my life I can’t reach him. I don’t know that he’s alive.”

Ben had known similar fears throughout the night and he could see, written on Hoss’ face, that his brother was talking for both of them. He reached out to grip Joe’s arm “Easy Son.”

Hoss looked at his father intently “I’m like Joe, nothing. I knew at first that he was in trouble and then ....” He sighed heavily “What about you Pa, can you feel anything?”

Ben caught Joe’s gaze on him as insistent as Hoss. As both waited for the answer as though their brother’s life depended on it. Ben couldn’t lie to them and he picked his words with care, “I’m not sure. Too much of the night I’ve been as scared as you two. As you say just blank and then just sometimes, I can’t describe it. Maybe wishful thinking but I feel he’s alive, hurt and in pain but alive.”

Joe frowned, studying his father’s eyes, wanting desperately to believe him but unsure and it was Hoss who asked, “How sure Pa?”

Ben shrugged “I don’t know Hoss, maybe Joe’s right and I just won’t admit it until we have five bodies, maybe I’m fooling myself but just sometimes I feel sure.”

Even that slight hint helped and Joe went of to get some coffee for them all, needing a few minutes alone to get back in control of himself. To Hoss’ horror Ben insisted on seeing the two bodies for himself. Ben tried to persuade his big son that he needn’t come but Hoss just shrugged, “Makes no odds Pa I can see them just about everywhere I look anyways. Just pray you’re right.”

“Men haven’t found anything else yet and with Stevens and Jack in charge they won’t miss anything. In this case no news is definitely good news.” Ben led the way back to where Hoss had indicated and stared down at the two misshapen remains. Whoever they had been he had lost two good men.  Hoss stood ready in case his father’s strange calm was broken and with it his strength but Ben just looked at them in silence. Then he quite deliberately knelt down by the larger body to examine his left hand. Although melted by the force of the fire Ben cleaned it enough to show the remains of a gold ring and Hoss bit his lip knowing that Adam always wore his wedding ring. Ben looked up “Easy Hoss, it’s not your brother I would know I’m sure. I seem to remember Pancho wore a ring Jess certainly didn’t but I don’t know about John Wilson. I think your original guess was correct.” Ben sounded so confident that Hoss slowly relaxed and only then did he realise he’d been holding his breath. Well as he knew his father Hoss didn’t realise just how forced Ben’s confidence was.

Ben was glad of Hoss’ help to get back to his feet and to move away from the two corpses and rejoin Joe. All of them were glad of the hefty slug of brandy Joe had put in each coffee, so worried and tired. It seemed to take forever for the men to complete the search right up to the base of the cliff but they found nothing. Stevens came over to report, he couldn’t imagine how the men had got out or where they were now but they weren’t in the burnt remains of the trees. Hoss frowned “How sure are you of that Stevens?”

“I’m sure.”

Joe looked better than he’d done for hours. “That’s good enough for me. So three of them got out. If they’d made it round the end before the fire reached the cliff they’d be here now. So far as I can see there’s only one possibility, they went up that cliff.”

Ben nodded his agreement but looking at the sheer cliff Stevens and the other surrounding hands showed their disbelief. Stevens shook his head “If so, why ain’t they up there waving to us, asking for help?”

Ben shrugged, “They might be hurt, not thinking too straight, might have been driven back by the fire or looking for water, who knows.”

“Only one way to find out.” Joe said, “Follow them up. At least if I can climb it without a fire as incentive proves they could too. With luck be a trail.”

As though at a signal everyone stared at the cliff, it didn’t seem possible but Hoss commented, “Jess has done some climbing.”

Joe felt better just at the prospect of doing something constructive and he headed straight to the base of the cliff and studied it carefully. Then he turned to his father and brother, “They’d have made for that ledge looks as though it heads all the way up.”

Ben nodded, “Only sensible plan and none of those three lack commonsense. Stiff climb Joseph.”

“If they did it so can I and as they aren’t here they must have made it.”

Hoss frowned, it sounded logical but then his little brother usually did. Looking at the sheer rock face logic lost its power and already scared one brother was badly hurt if not dead; he hated the idea of his other brother risking serious injury by trying to climb it. Joe could read his big brother’s face more clearly than any book and he punched Hoss gently on the shoulder. “Have more faith big brother I can climb that.” He dropped his voice so only Hoss could hear, “Look after Pa,”

Ben came over “Be very careful Joseph.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Sure.” Ben handed him a ball of twine, “Take this with you and once you’re on the ledge you can lower it and get a lariat.”

“Good idea Pa. Don’t worry.”

Ben squeezed Joe’s shoulder momentarily “Good luck.” Joe just grinned and went over to the cliff, his first holds already planned. Ben prayed for both his sons and was very glad of Hoss as his big son stood next to him, his arm round his father’s shoulders, trying to reassure him in the only way he knew how. They stood in silence watching Joe edge his way slowly up the cliff, Joe wasn’t rushing although pleased to find more holds than had been apparent from below. The rock had been damaged by the fire and a few cracks had opened up although the fire had destroyed all sign of the three men who had gone up before him, at least over the lower part of the cliff.

It seemed to take forever to the men waiting below and then to their horror Joe seemed to stop completely, In fact he was examining one of the small handholds, almost sure it had been deliberately cut out. It was one of the holds that Jess had enlarged, above the line where the fire had blackened the rock. Joe was also examining the stain on the rock. It was baked hard and Joe tried to scrape it away with his fingernail, He couldn’t be sure but it looked like blood to him, rather a lot of it on one small handhold. Telling himself that any one of the three men could have left it, grazed hands all too likely on the sheer rock face, he was about to move on when glancing down something in the stillness alerted him. He realised that he’d probably scared them and called down “Pa, Hoss, I’m fine. Looks like a fresh man-made hold here.”

Then Joe moved on, finding it easier with the holds that Jess had cut and he reached the ledge five minutes later. After a sleepless night the climb had taxed his strength and after levering himself onto the ledge Joe could only kneel quietly for a minute or two fighting for his breath. Slowly he got control and made it to his feet waving down to his Pa and Hoss before examining the area, whether the stain on the rock was blood or not, there was no doubt about the small pool on the ledge. Joe moved slowly up finding marks indicating something had moved along. The trail on the short grass was too indistinct to be sure how many, just the odd stone turned over, grass broken or bruised. He went back “Pa, Hoss, been someone up here, can’t be sure how many yet, Tracks lead on up.”

Ben called back, “Wait for help Joseph. Chances are at least someone is hurt. Take food, medical supplies.”

That made sense and while Joe let down the twine and pulled up a rope Hoss began preparing four packs of food and medical essentials. Joe tied the first rope to a convenient projection to aid the next climber and then collected another to pull in the supplies. Ben had more volunteers than he could possibly use. Hoss was insistent that he was going to find his brother and Ben didn’t argue. If someone was badly hurt Hoss’ great strength might be invaluable and he assured his son that he was fine. Between them Ben and Hoss quickly settles on who was to go, six in all, two to help each of the men they hoped to find. Stevens and Jack Catfish could always be relied on and had tracking skills and two long term hands Red and Hank made up the numbers. Ben was quite sure he could cope, the fire was well up the valley now and even if there was a change of wind he had plenty of men to cope. Once Hoss had sent up the four packs and two more of blankets he followed up to rejoin his brother, very grateful for the help of the rope.

Joe waited until his brother joined him and then showed him the pool of blood. Hoss frowned as he studied it, knowing what Joe was thinking “Noway to tell little brother. Let’s move, sooner we find them sooner we’ll know.” He sighed heavily, almost scared to know, his father’s confidence losing its effect now that Ben wasn’t there.

Joe led the way on up the ledge, the rest followed in single file with Hoss bringing up the rear. Their footing wasn’t too bad but Joe didn’t rush, it wouldn’t help anyone to have more accidents. It took nearly twenty minutes before they reached the flat area where the three exhausted men had rested. The patches of burnt grass, obviously deliberately put out, bore witness to someone’s presence and Joe stopped to examine the area carefully. Flattened areas where men had lain and more blood, although less this time, told of a lengthy stay and after a careful look around Joe asked the other men the all important question, “How many?” He just wasn’t sure whether he was seeing what he wanted to, maybe one body had been missed in the devastated area below.

Hoss bit his lip as uncertain as his brother but Jack grinned “Three Joe for sure.”

Stevens nodded, “Looks as though at least one is hurt, but three men and all on their feet. That brother of yours has the reputation of being indestructible, maybe earning it over again.”

Joe let his breath out in a long sigh but until they found the three it was only his father’s certainty they were relying on that if it had been Adam they would have known. He led them on upwards, conscious of the gathering clouds which might lose them the trail, wanting only to find the three, reach his brother.

Ben couldn’t put off contacting the house any longer. Although he was still without definite news there were at least encouraging signs and the basic fact that the bodies weren’t there so the men had managed to escape. He contacted Hop Sing easily and as briefly as he could spelt out the current position, entrusting his houseman with the difficult job of telling the girls. The last thing that Hop Sing wanted was to add to his boss’ problems, knowing that he wasn’t fully fit yet, but it wasn’t his decision to make, so for the first time Ben heard about

Carole’s threatened miscarriage. For a minute Ben sat down unable to think clearly, so much suddenly going wrong at once and after a sleepless night he was very tired and had a very bad headache. However one thing was clear in the absence of definite news Carole would worry, she ought to at least know the favourable signs and the reasons for the delay in making contact. He told Hop Sing to tell Sue and Nita, leave it to them to decide how much to tell Carole. It was the best that he could do and he had great faith in the two girls, especially Sue, a trained nurse. Once he had disconnected Ben got himself some coffee and sat down warming his hands on the mug, praying for his eldest son, Carole and his unborn grandchild. Relaxing slightly Ben forced himself to drink the coffee and even accepted some food. Then he settled to try and get some rest, knowing he wasn’t helping anyone by getting exhausted. He didn’t expect to be able to sleep but still low on stamina, nature released him for a while at least.

At the house Carole felt better for a long sleep, even drug induced, and she was well in control although very worried about Adam. She couldn’t understand why there was no news; it was very obvious that the fire was dying down, now only very indistinctly visible. Therefore Ben must have contacted Adam by now, why hadn’t he sent word unless something was terrible wrong. Carole consoled herself that it took a long time in the dark, even with the wagon road it was still rough, probably someone was on the way. Physically she still felt weak but the various aches and pains had eased and with no further signs of a miscarriage she was happier about the baby. She was able to relax slightly, knowing just how competent her husband was. Although she didn’t like staying in bed, she couldn’t take any risks with her baby and did as Sue ordered.

When Hop Sing came over Nita was on her own downstairs with the children, Sue had taken some coffee up for Carole, Nita had got to know the Chinese very well and despite their reputation for inscrutability she had no trouble in seeing Hop Sing had brought bad news. She offered him coffee but Hop Sing shook his head and wouldn’t even sit down, just explaining all he knew about the situation. In some ways it was a relief, an explanation for the long delay in getting news and although there was still nothing definite, it sounded promising. Of all the Cartwrights Nita had come to believe that Adam was capable of anything and she was confident of his ability to look after the fire and then find a comfortable place to wait it out. When Sue came down Nita explained and they both agreed that Carole had to be told. Sue collected some of the sedative that Doc had left just in case but in fact Carole took the news very calmly. She was glad to have the delay explained and knowing that Adam had Jess and another trustworthy man with him helped more than the other women really understood. Carole was convinced that Adam was hurt, calmer now she did her best to ignore her lack of conviction that he was even alive, but if Jess was with him his friend would look after him. In the absence of his brothers probably noone was closer to Adam than Jess and at least his brothers were on the way to join him. It was obviously a case of waiting and Carole took a dose of the sedative without argument and settled for sleep rather to Sue’s surprise. At least while asleep the time passed more quickly and if Adam was badly hurt she had to be fit enough to help him, not worry him further.

As the clouds gathered over the mesa Jess decided that rain was very likely and with Adam still burning up, the last thing they needed was for him to be soaked, apart from the effect on his burnt back. Although clotted in places the shirt they’d covered him with was soaked as the burns wept, no skin to hold the precious fluid and even without rain it was showing little sign of drying up. Since they’d cleaned him up Adam had shown no sign of regaining consciousness but slowly his breathing had eased, it was slower and deeper as he came out of shock. Jess didn’t want to leave his friend but John was in obvious pain from his ribs and half dozing so Jess decided to leave them and try to find some shelter. Obviously it had to be fairly close at hand, they were no more capable of carrying Adam than they had been the previous night. Jess hoped he’d somehow be able to persuade Adam back to his feet, although at the minute that didn’t look too likely or at a pinch he could probably manage to carry the bigger man over his shoulder for a short distance. Either way there only looked like one possibility a pile of rocks about 200 yards southwest of them. Jess woke John and explained what he was doing, asking him to keep an eye on Adam. John moved over closer “Resting a mite easier.”

“Maybe but I wish his back would dry up, can’t be doing him any good weeping like that.”

“Nothing we can do.”

Jess bit his lip, “I know, only likely to make it worse, we need help and fast. If we can get him under cover I’ll try and make contact if I can. We can’t be that far from the rim.”

John forced a smile “Doing all we can Jess. I’ll look after him.”

Jess soon reached the rocks but at first he couldn’t find anything and he had to move further and further along, despite needing to keep the distance down. At last he found a shallow cleft which was at least roofed and by dint of hard work he cleared enough boulders to make a fall area under cover big enough for Adam to rest in. It was about a quarter of a mile from the two men but the best Jess could do and he walked back slowly, clearing a path as best he could, to make it as easy as possible to move the injured man. By the time Jess got back it was already misty and damp as the clouds came down low and in the distance they could se heavy rain which would at least put out the fire.

John got to his feet as Jess came in, he’d watched him approach and knew how far they had to go. He accepted that they needed the cover but with Adam’s back so badly hurt there was no way to carry him between them, not without a stretcher and there was nothing to allow them to improvise such a thing. Adam still hadn’t stirred and John said as much, but Jess grabbed a quick drink and then got down on his knees by his friend. He wiped Adam’s face and gripped his uninjured right hand Jess started talking to him, begging his friend to make one more effort, trying to rouse him. For fully five minutes there was no noticeable effect and then Adam moaned once or twice before finally opening his eyes. Jess wiped his face again and tried to explain what he wanted, just to walk a little way to cover. It was almost more frightening for Jess as Adam stared at him without the slightest hint of recognition and virtually no sign of comprehension. Jess could only carry on repeating his request for Adam to get to his feet and walk to cover with help. As the rain fell a little harder he had added urgency to his voice and gradually Adam registered what was being said. He was only really aware of pain, Jess’ voice came from a long way away and Adam had little idea who was there or where he was, not even the energy to care about such questions but eventually the one fact got through. It was important for some reason for him to get on his feet and he did his very best to comply. Pulling his right hand away from Jess he began to push himself up and with the limited help the other two could give he lurched to his feet. Leaning heavily on Jess he stayed on them and started to move forward. Every movement was agony and he couldn’t help moaning and sometimes crying out, not even aware that the strange noises he could hear had anything to do with him. It took Jess over forty minutes to support, cajole and bully Adam over that quarter of a mile. The longest quarter of a mile he had ever crossed but somehow they made it, although by the time they did Adam’s every breath seemed laboured and as it was raining quite hard they were all soaked.

Eventually Adam was lowered as gently as they could to the floor of the cave. He was soaked through and obviously close to shock again. Without anything except the clothes they stood up in and noway to light a fire there was virtually nothing that Jess or John could do for him. As they knelt by him Adam slipped back into unconsciousness, only wanting to get away from the pain which filled his world, Jess considered John who looked close to collapse too and made up his mind. “We’ve got to get help or he’ll be dead before it arrives. This rain rules out any chance they have of tracking us, even if they guess we climbed the cliff. It can’t be that far. I’m gonna try and contact someone.”

John stared down at the injured man, scared to be left with the sole responsibility but Jess went on, “Nothing either of us can do except hold him still, so little point in me staying.”

“If he dies?”

“Noone is gonna blame you John. We’ve done all we can, now we need help. Medicines, blankets, food, we can’t even keep him warm.”

John nodded, “You’re right. We both owe him our lives got to keep trying.”

“I’ll be as quick as I can.” Jess hurried out and made his way back towards where he judged the rim of the mesa to be. It had to be partly guesswork, he had very little idea where they had gone overnight but despite the long hours they had walked Jess knew they hadn’t actually gone very far.

Joe and Hoss had hurried as much as they could seeing the rain approaching but the trail left by men on foot was very indistinct and the trail weaved round seemingly not heading anywhere in particular, always taking the easiest way. At first puzzled both Joe and Hoss had quickly reached the same conclusion that one man although on his feet was barely so. There was no way to know which man it was but with the strange lack of contact with their eldest brother both believed it was Adam, unless that had been his body in the fire despite Ben’s certainty. Before when Adam was hurt both had known it but it was preferable to believe him out of his mind, maybe in a coma, than to believe that misshapen corpse was his. They couldn’t meet each other’s eye, not wanting to talk, all too aware of each other’s fears. They kept ahead of their four hands, knowing they couldn’t really hide the fear and distress they felt. As the rain began in earnest Hoss put his hand on his brother’s arm “Hold on Joe. Let’s get slickers on, won’t help nothing to have the blankets soaked through.”

Joe nodded and all of them got their packs covered, helping each other. Joe frowned as he studied the ground, the first to get his slicker on and Hoss joined him, “Can you make out anything Joe, I ain’t been sure fer the last half hour.”

Joe sighed “No. Guess we’d better split up and search visibility isn’t great in this, Maybe we ought to get some more help, can’t even be sure which way they are heading.”

“Don’t reckon they knew, but I doubt they can be very far, one at least is in bad trouble.”

Joe bit his lip not wanting to discuss that, “So what do we do?”

“Keep looking, spread out and call for them. Three shots if we find anything. Get more and we’re gonna start losing each other.”

Joe admitted the sense of that and sent Stevens and Red off to his left, while Hoss took the far end of the line on his right with Jack and Hank between them. They began working their way on northwest, the average sort of direction that the trail had seemed to lead.

On his own with the men either side hidden by the mist Joe was close to giving way to utter despair. It seemed so impossible to find anything, even the weather was conspiring against them. Hoss wasn’t very much better but he couldn’t just give up and he raised his strong voice and yelled into the ungiving mist, surely the missing men couldn’t be far.

How long they moved on calling until they were hoarse none of them knew. Jess on his way to find help heard the calls and made his way towards them He was very tired after a day fire fighting and a night supporting his friend, bruised and aching in every muscle and for a while he couldn’t find his voice. He made his way towards the loudest noise and it wasn’t until he saw Hoss looming unmistakeably out of the mist that he found enough voice to call out, “Hoss over here, Hoss.”

Hoss tense and almost unnaturally aware of every sound heard Jess despite the noise the others were making. Lengthening his stride he was by Jess almost at once. Jess was so relieved to have reached help than he sank down close to collapse. Hoss was sufficiently realistic to know he couldn’t get any answers for the minute and fired off the three shots to say something was found. Then he pulled out his brandy flask and supporting Jess as best he could, fed him some.

Jess spluttered as the spirit caught him but knowing what Hoss’ overwhelming worry must be he got a grip on himself and said, “Adam’s alive, but he’s hurt, bad, back away.”

“Easy Jess, have another drink and rest a minute, then you can tell us.” Hoss gripped Jess’ shoulder, hardly able to see him as tears blurred his eyes, so thankful that his brother was alive. By the time he’d got control of himself, Joe was calling to him and Hoss yelled to show where he was.

For a moment on hearing the shots Joe stood stock still, not able to move, scared to learn that Adam was dead, but he had to know and after that first reaction he ran towards the sound. He didn’t care how rough the ground was, jumping from rock to rock, trusting his own surefootedness and then he called out needing to know where to go. As his brother called Joe made his way over, picking Hoss out of the murk and then he identified Jess and came to a halt in front of them unable to put the all important question in to words, Hoss reached out and gripped his brother’s arm “Adam’s alive Joe, but he’s hurt.”

Joe bit his lip, so thankful for that at least and then dropped to one knee in front of Jess. He asked “How bad is he? What’s wrong? Where is he? Are you alright? “What happened?”

Hoss gripped his shoulder “Easy Little Joe, give Jess a chance he’s about at the end of his tether.”

Joe could see the truth of that but he had to know and it was a real effort to sit and wait for Jess to collect his wits. He couldn’t seem to breathe and his fists were clenched so tight that his nails drew blood. Jess looked into Joe’s eyes seeing the fear and worry. He swallowed hard “Joe he’s burnt, badly burnt, not really conscious.”

Joe looked up at his big brother in near panic; he’d been pushing the fear of bad burns to the back of his mind all night. He remembered as though it was yesterday a man in Virginia City who had been badly burnt in a fire down one of the mines in the early days of the town. The man had recovered but it had left his face terribly scarred. Joe had been in his early teens, in town with Adam when they met him and he had got away as fast as he could from the scarred face, unable to face the horror. Joe hadn’t been unable to understand how Adam could stand and talk to him as though nothing was wrong. In fact Adam had gone further, inviting the man to join him for a beer, congratulating him on his survival. Unfortunately there were few like Adam and a week later the man had taken his own life, no longer able to take the horror he saw in everyone’s faces. Joe had taken the news hard maybe if he could have done the same as his eldest brother, one more might have tipped the balance; let him hang on until people grew accustomed. Now he was terrified in case Adam’s face was burnt, his eldest brother maybe blind, never again looking the same and he couldn’t even find the voice to ask. Hoss read the panic in Joe’s eyes and moved to support him and as though it was in front of him he could see the upset kid so long ago when the news of the burnt man’s suicide reached the ranch. Perhaps not surprisingly the brothers’ thought had been following similar tracks all night and Hoss was almost equally scared for his brother but he had to know, “Where is he burnt Jess?”

“Back and his left hand.”

Hoss sighed with relief and then concentrated on steadying Joe, who swayed alarmingly, so that Hoss thought for a moment that Joe was going to pass out. He handed Joe the brandy flask but Joe pushed it away. “I’m okay Adam’s had a bad burn before, last time we had one of these storms. We know how to cope, he’ll be fine.” He sounded almost light-hearted with relief, just to know that his brother was alive and still his normal, handsome elegant self.

Jess frowned at the note in his voice, not wanting Joe to get too optimistic or he’d get a nasty shock. More in control of himself now that he’d had a chance to rest, Jess straightened up, “Joe it’s not that easy. It’s a very bad burn, extensive and Adam is mighty sick. I don’t think he knows what is happening don’t know me at all. I’ve been able to persuade him to get to his feet and walk, we couldn’t carry him, but maybe I’ve pushed him too far, shock. We had to get to water and then with this rain get to shelter.”

Hoss forced a grin “If he can walk he’ll make out. We’ve got supplies, blankets, food medicines. So if you feel up to moving, let’s get back to him.”

Jess nodded and Hoss helped him up, “He’s in a sorta cave about a mile maybe, best I could find. At least a roof over him, John will do all he can.” Jess refused a slicker, he couldn’t get any wetter and having assured Hoss that John wasn’t too badly hurt, just cracked ribs, he saved his breath and led the rescue party back to Adam.

In many ways Ben had the worst of it, he slept for a couple of hours but even then he was troubled by nightmares. His confidence that he would know his son’s body hadn’t been an act and he was sure that they hadn’t found Adam yet, but that didn’t alter the fact that something was terribly wrong and with the savagery of the fire as shown by the two corpses, Ben couldn’t help fearing the effect of burns. There was nothing to be done, especially once the rain started, finishing off the job of putting out the fire and all Ben could do was to wait, pacing around restlessly. He sent most of the men home, all those with burns, however minor and all of Adam’s original work force, all near exhaustion. Most had gone but Chris Santeé and Jackson opted to stay, wanting to know what had happened to their friends. None of the men who remained knew Ben that well and they left him alone, the expression on his face enough to deter any comment. That suited Ben, bodily he was stuck there waiting but his whole mind and will was with his younger sons, for now even the threat to Carole pushed to the back of his mind as he prayed for his eldest son’s survival.

Despite Jess’ comments Joe was too relieved to find his worst fears proved wrong to really take in the extent of the injuries Adam had received and he was fairly cheerful as they made their way back to the cave, John Wilson had had little to do, Adam was still feverish, shivering sometimes in the cold and damp but there was nothing John could do, Adam mainly lay still his breathing very shallow and fast, occasionally moaning as the pain caught him but at least resting. Even so John was very relieved to hear voices approaching well before he had dared to let himself hope and going to the entrance he soon recognized Hoss’ unmistakeable form. There wasn’t room for everyone inside and John moved out letting Hoss and Joe go in with Jess. Stevens gave John some brandy while Jack looked for some more shelter where they could light a fire and heat up some food and coffee.

Neither Hoss nor Joe spared him a glance, leaving the others to cope as they went to kneel by their brother. Adam’s burnt left hand lay in front of him, open, the finger’s spread as he reacted to minimise the pain and it was obvious just how badly it was damaged. The brother’s frowned but made no comment and Hoss gently lifted Adam’s right arm and felt his brother’s forehead, “Joe bit his lip “Feverish, what’s his pulse like?”

“Fast, mite thready but still strong and he’s not that feverish. His hand’s a mess.”

Joe nodded and looked at the sodden shirt covering his brother’s back, Hoss pulled out his knife, “Best cut if off, see what we can do.”

Joe bit his knuckle, “You do it Hoss.” His own hands were trembling too much.

Hoss accepted the job although it was difficult to keep his own hands steady especially as Adam moaned but very gently the big man cut the shirt and lifted it clear to show the burns, blood, clotted in places but mainly raw and weeping over most of Adam’s back with a particularly deep one round his neck where his neckerchief had been tied. It had looked worse before Jess cleaned the burnt cloth, flesh and wood, but not much and despite Jess’ warning it was far worse than either brother had expected. They couldn’t begin to imagine how Adam had walked anywhere with such injuries. It was also far beyond their knowledge of first aid and for a moment they just sat staring in horror.

The pain had brought Adam back to consciousness and he opened his eyes, Jess was the first to notice and he said, “Hoss, Joe he’s come round.”

Both his brothers moved closer to his head and Joe wiped his forehead tenderly, “Easy Adam we’re here now, we’ll take care of everything.”

Adam slowly looked towards the sound of the voice but to Joe’s horror there wasn’t any sign of comprehension in Adam’s eyes. Joe went on “Hoss is here and me Joe. Adam don’t you know, can’t you see? Adam?”

Hoss gripped Joe’s shoulder, “Easy little brother, don’t push him.” He was almost equally concerned and pushed Adam’s hair back off his forehead, “Easy Adam we’ll look after you.”

There was still no recognition in his eyes, only pain and Adam unaware of anything but that pain shut his eyes again, seeking oblivion in that other world where for a while he could forget pain. He left his brothers staring at each other in consternation. Neither could remember a time when Adam hadn’t known them, even in delirium they could usually recall his wandering wits and he wasn’t even delirious, not that feverish, Joe was the first to find his voice, “He doesn’t know us.”

Hoss stared at his brother’s damaged back and very low he murmured “Adam once said you knew all that was there was to know about pain when he had to haul you out of that landslide. I reckon he does. I think that’s all he knows at the minute.”

“What the hell do we do?”

Hoss sighed, looking out at the rain, “We sure can’t move him until the rain lets up or we’ll have pneumonie as well to cope with. We need advice Joe, this is beyond us.”

“Easy said, but....”

Hoss gripped his little brother’s arm almost painfully, “Get a grip on yourself Joe, I know he’s mighty bad, but we won’t help him by going to pieces. He’s alive, maybe in agony but alive and we gotta keep him that way. Pain passes, it’ll heal in time, if’n we do things right.”

Joe swallowed hard, knowing his brother was right and reached for the brandy forcing himself to try and think. “You’re right we can’t move him yet but there’s no room for everyone here.”

“It’s not that far back to Pa. He’s got the telegraph working. We need to explain the trouble to Sue; she’ll maybe know the best thing to do. Take too long to get word from Doc but Sue’s a nurse.”

Joe nodded “We’ll need four to carry him on a stretcher. The others can help John and you Jess. Who goes?”

“You’ll make better time than me little brother, especially on the way back if you can face telling Pa.

Joe hated leaving his eldest brother while he was so ill but Hoss with his great strength might be better able to help Adam and that was all that mattered. “How about that?” he gestured at the burns.

Hoss shrugged “Until we get advice I reckon we ought to leave strictly alone or we’ll risk driving him into shock, making thing worse.” He had already wrapped blankets round his brother’s lower body, having eased wet trousers off him, but even at that Adam had moaned and Hoss was loathe to do more.

Joe went to investigate what the others were doing and found hot beans, bacon and coffee ready. He hadn’t realised just how long they’d been sitting stunned by Adam. Jess was loathe to leave his friend but near exhaustion he knew he would only be in the way and he was leaving his friend with the best care in his brothers. While they waited for food Hoss found out just what had happened, Jess was unstinting in his praise for Adam who had been perfectly safe on the right side of the fire and chosen to come through to help them only to pay so heavily for it as the burning branches landed on him while trying to cut John free. As he described how Adam had bullied them into trying to climb the cliff, despite his injuries Hoss listened quietly but as Jess came to a stop, Hoss said “Just one thing I don’t understand. How did you get him up that cliff you don’t have ropes or anything.”

Joe, bringing food over for Jess and Hoss heard the question but the expression on Jess’ face kept him quiet, Jess was staring at Adam almost in awe and eventually very quietly he said, “Adam climbed it on his own, made us go first and then somehow he followed. That’s why his hand is so bad. It was burnt and the rocks.... I don’t know how, it’s impossible but he did it, It seemed to take an eternity, the fire just below, but he made it and made us walk on up the ledge to safety, insisted he could walk. It’s only since we reached safety that he’s been out of his wits.”

Joe put down the plates and went to kneel by his brother, not doubting the truth of what he’d heard. He knew just how hard it had been for him to make that climb without ropes and he was fully fit. He touched his brother’s hair very gently, “Hold on Adam if you can do that you can do anything. Dear God  only you and Adam can know how much that cost him, please don’t let it be in vain, please help him.” Joe shut his eyes not even aware that he had spoken aloud.

Hoss equally moved went to Joe and put his arm round his brother, “Easy Joe, God will help him. He’s never failed us yet and Adam was hurt helping others. God must have given him the strength to make that climb; no man could have made that climb unaided, he won’t leave Adam now.”

Joe lent back against his big brother for a minute, glad of his warm strength and his strong faith. Then he straightened up and insisted that Jess ate and change into dry clothes and put on a slicker, they would be leaving in quarter of an hour. He was leaving Jack and Stevens with his brother and they were busy preparing some hot broth for Adam in an even smaller cave a little further along the line of rocks. Once everyone was ready, Joe knelt by Adam to take his leave, praying that his brother would hold on.

Hoss gripped Joe’s shoulder “I’ll look after him. Sorry to land you with the job of telling Pa.

“He’s prepared for trouble and he won’t really understand until he sees. I’ll make it as easy as I can for him, he’s not fit either.”

“Pa’s strong, he’ll be okay and Sue will tell us what to do.”

“Sure. I won’t be long.”

Hoss forced his brother to face him “Just be careful little brother, won’t help anything for you to have an accident and its mighty rough.”

Joe left Red and Hank to help John and Jess along and headed out as directly as he could for the rim. Despite poor visibility in the rain his sense of direction stood him in good stead and he came out less than fifty yards from where the ledge broke out onto the mesa.  Joe turned and jogged back to the other four, telling them to follow on at their own pace and to be careful, Joe left them again and pushed on as fast as he could, only wanting to get back to his brothers. It was a little slippery under foot from the rain but with both hands free Joe made good time and using the rope he walked down the last part of the sheer rock face in a fraction of the time it had taken to climb, forcing the images his brain kept giving him of his injured brother climbing it to the back of his mind. He concentrated on the immediate problems of telling his father and contacting Sue.

Ben had seen Joe on the ledge and was waiting at the bottom, unsure what his youngest son’s arrival on his own meant. Before he reached the bottom Joe saw his father and called out “He’s alive, hurt, Hoss is with him.”

Ben was leaning against the wall weak with relief and as Joe reached the bottom he scanned his son’s face. What he saw was far from reassuring and Ben frowned “How bad is he?”

“Bad Pa. We need Sue’s advice, I’ll explain as we go, need the telegraph.” Joe was short of breath after his climb down and the urgency in his voice held Ben quiet, as he led the way over to the nearest point on the telegraph line. Joe tried to fill his father in as they went. “Adam’s burnt, his back and left hand, badly. His face isn’t touched and only the hair at the back of his neck but his back is raw, a mess, We don’t know what to do for the best, daren’t move him until rain eases. In a small cave, Feverish but not too high, Not really conscious, he doesn’t know us.”

Ben could sense how much that had scared Joe and put his arm round his son, “He must be in bad pain.”

“Yeah I think that’s all he knows at the moment.” Joe broke off, unable to say anymore and hurried over to the telegraph, calling the house. Hop Sing was there and when Joe said that they needed Sue at once to talk to he wasted no time in questions, just sending “Fifteen minutes.”

There was nothing to do but wait until Sue got back to them and staring at the ground, unable to meet his father’s eye, Joe told him how Adam had been hurt, the impossible climb and the extent of his brother’s injuries. Ben knew his eldest son’s strength but even so he was amazed that Adam could have made that climb injured as Joe described. The extent of the injuries and just how ill his eldest son was were more obvious from the expression in Joe’s eyes, than the words which his son found to explain. Eventually Joe fell quiet and they sat in silence, close together for mutual comfort, words couldn’t help as they waited for the telegraph.

Sue was surprised when Hop Sing arrived and demanded that she come at once to the telegraph as Mr Ben wanted advice. Carole was sleeping and they had left her door open so that she could call if she wanted anything. The other two had been having coffee downstairs and now Nita got Sue’s cloak “Go on I’ll see to everything here.”

“Of course.” Sue hadn’t had much chance to speculate as Hop Sing hustled her back to the main house in little over ten minutes and announced their presence to Ben, Joe took the key and sent “Sue need advice, Adam alive, bad burns, back and left hand, have to move, don’t know what to do first.”

Sue frowned as Hop Sing wrote it out and then got him to ask “Burns how extensive?”

Joe answered “Whole back, waist to hairline, raw, been cleaned, just water.”

Sue shuddered knowing how serious it was likely to prove to say nothing of painful but she concentrated on the immediate problem “Most important fluids, losing through burns. Vital.

Don’t touch burns. Cover gauze only, light as can. Bring home. What fever?”

“Some not too high. Doesn’t know us.”

“Pain probably give painkiller.”

Ben moved over and took the key from Joe, “How is Carole?”

“Resting, no worse, chances good.”

Joe looked at his father puzzled, but Ben went on, “Tell her what you think. Head home soon possible. Send word to fetch Doc.”

 “Look after her.”


“Fluid vital.”

As Ben put the key down Joe held his arm, “Pa what’s wrong with Carole?”

Ben sighed, “Some threat of a miscarriage. Sue has had Doc out and says there is a good chance she’ll carry to term but she’s been ordered to bed for a few days to rest.”

“Thank God Sue and Nita are there. Why Pa, why? All at once and all on Adam. He was only trying to help.”

“Easy Joseph, Sue will keep Carole quiet, she’s a nurse after all, and once Adam is home we can get him treated. At least he’s alive.”

“Yeah Pa. Are you alright?”

“Of course, don’t worry about me; get back to your brothers.”

“We’ll move him as soon as it stops raining,”

“Shouldn’t be too long it’s beginning to look brighter. Do you want to take some poles for the sides of the stretcher?”

“Yeah Hoss told me to bring some. I’d forgotten, good job one of us is thinking.”

“Anything else you need?”

“I don’t think so. Just pray for him and I know you’ll do that.”

Joe clambered back up the cliff, seeing his brother ever in front of him, imagination providing the details Adam wouldn’t and probably couldn’t describe. Not held back by the tired men Joe made quick progress back to his brothers, but even so it still seemed to take forever.

Hoss could do little for his brother, attempts to get Adam to drink a little broth or even water had been failures and he could only hold his brother still, fight the fever with cold compresses, There was little change but every moan from his brother went right through Hoss and Joe seemed to take a very long time.

Joe pushed into the small cave, having left the poles with Stevens and asked him and Jack to use the blankets and make a stretcher. The rain was down to a fine drizzle and showed signs of stopping, Stevens had said that there was no change but Joe needed to see for himself. Hoss looked up, so very drawn, that Joe caught his breath but Hoss said “No worse Joe. What did Sue say?”

“Says to leave his back alone, but that it’s vital to get fluids into him. He’s losing liquid all the time through those burns.”

“I’ve tried Joe but he just don’t want.”

“We’ll have to force him somehow. Sue said vital, repeated it twice.” Joe moved closer to his eldest brother and lifted his head very gently. Adam moaned but Joe gritted his teeth and began to spoon some warm milk into his brother. At first most of it just dribbled out of Adam’s slack mouth but then to Joe’s relief his brother swallowed and after that seemed to take the warm liquid more willingly. Hoss fetched more as Joe worked his way through the half pint he’d brought in. Hoss fetched some more thanking Kirk for his bright idea of putting some in; Joe managed to spoon most of a second half pint into Adam and then tried broth. Adam gagged on that and as the coughing tore at his back, he screamed in pain and Joe pushed the broth away. “Give me the laudanum, try and ease it a bit.”

Hoss passed it over, his hand shaking so upset by his brother’s obvious pain. Joe forced Adam to drink a dose and then reached for the canteen and continued spooning water in while his brother was cooperating, unsure how much fluid was needed. Hoss had sat by helplessly for far too long and now he went to straighten up, moving just outside, stretching his back and legs so cramped, sitting by Adam in the tiny cave. The rain had virtually stopped and they had to take advantage of it and move Adam home where Doc could help him more adequately. Hoss knew that was sense but he was also too aware of how much it was going to hurt Adam, however careful they were. Once before he’d had to move a brother in agony from these woods and maybe Joe had been a lot closer to death than Adam was, but for the next weeks, maybe months Adam was going to know all too much pain. Although Hoss knew the depths of his elder brother’s endurance, he would have done a lot to take it from him.

Joe hadn’t told Hoss of Carole’s threatened miscarriage, not wanting to worry him any more. There would be plenty of time once they had their brother back down to the wagons and on his way home. Knowing how hard they would both take the loss of another child, Joe prayed for his sister and almost equally for his beloved wife, bad luck often seemed to come in threes. Joe knew it was a stupid superstition but he felt cold with fear for her. Still his main prayers were for God to give Adam the strength he would need for his journey.

Hoss was checking the stretcher trying to rig some sort of shelter over it to protect Adam’s back without touching it and pads for his brother’s head and left hand. They could only lash Adam’s injured hand to the side pole and try to stop it getting banged against anything. Hoss guessed his brother’s back would heal in time, badly scarred inevitably but maybe no real problem but whether Adam’s hand would ever heal enough to be of use again Hoss wasn’t sue. The only good thing was that it was his left hand and not his right.

Joe kept on spooning water into his brother until Adam moved to push the spoon away, moaning as the pain caught him just from the slight muscle movement but the pain seemed to bring him round and Joe carefully wiped his brother’s face. For a moment Adam didn’t seem able to think, didn’t know what was wrong, just that his whole body felt as though it was on fire, in pain and he managed to focus and to Joe’s great relief Adam whispered “Joe.”

Hoss had hurried back over as for the first time in hours he felt his brother’s presence. Even sitting by Adam too conscious of his pain he hadn’t felt Adam not as he did now. At first it was just a blur of pain and then it was as though Adam was calling for him. Hoss came in just in time to hear his brother say Joe. Hoss moved up next to Joe as his little brother said, “Easy Adam we’ll get you home, it’ll be alright.”

Adam saw his big brother and forced a faint smile “Hoss, both of you, be fine.”

Hoss rested his hand gently on his brother’s forehead, smoothing back the hair, “Just rest Adam.”

“Jess, John?”

“They’re fine, already back with Pa down by the lake. We’ll move you down in just a few minutes. Let the laudanum work first. Try and relax.”

“Don’t worry Joe, Hoss, be fine.” Adam rested his head against Joe, trying to forget the pain in his back and control his breathing.

His brothers met each other’s eye, thankful that Adam knew them but sorry in a way that he had come round it was going to be a very painful journey. Hoss said, “The stretcher is done and the weather will serve. Guess we’d better move, sooner we get home to Doc the better.”

“Won’t help to wait.” Joe agreed but he bit his lip worried for his brother. Hoss called Stevens and Jack to bring the stretcher. There was noway to move Adam onto it within the confines of the cave so Hoss told them to wait just outside and knelt down by his brother. “We’re gonna lift you onto a stretcher, just a few yards. Trust me don’t try and do anything. You jest try and relax. It’ll hurt I’m afraid, we don’t need heroics as you told Joe once, if you wanna cry out you do it. Sometimes helps.”

“Be okay.” Adam couldn’t help tensing up but aware of the throb in his left hand, he said “My hand.”

“Easy Adam, Joe will support that.” Hoss gestured to his brother to support Adam’s left hand and arm and his head and as gently as he knew how, he slid one arm under his brother’s chest, the other under his pelvis, while Jack hurried to support Adam’s legs. Hoss felt his brother draw in his breath as the pain caught him, but they had no choice and he said, “Okay on three.”

As carefully as they knew how they edged out and laid him down on the blankets of the stretcher. Adam was bathed in sweat from the pain and he couldn’t help the moan, his breathing fast as he fought for control. Joe gave him a drink and wiped his face while Hoss strapped his left arm, supporting his left hand as best they could. Then he wrapped blankets round Adam’s lower body before tying up the small tent well clear of his back, the best that Hoss could devise.

Slowly Adam won control, “Okay sorry to be a nuisance.”

“Don’t be daft.” Joe said, “You’re doing marvellously well. We all know you’re in pain and there’s nothing we can do to help until we can get you back to Doc.”

Stevens picked up one of the packs and said, “Your brother is right Adam. None of us will ever know how you got this far, saved two good men, friends of ours too. You sure haven’t anything to apologise for, or to prove. You yell if it helps.”

Adam relaxed a little, Jack was an old friend of his and Stevens understood, He just wasn’t up to an act but he wouldn’t call out if he could help it and he asked Joe for his belt, something to bite down on,

The four men carried the make shift stretcher as smoothly as they could but even so the pain passed over Adam in increasing waves and all he could do was bite down and endure. At least it got no worse and slowly Adam came to the conclusion that he could take it and he let the belt fall from between his teeth. A little further on Hoss caught Joe’s eye “Far enough for a start, let’s rest for five minutes.”

Joe nodded and they carefully put the stretcher down and Joe fed his brother some more water and after consultation with Hoss they decided it was safe enough to give him another dose of laudanum, Here they were largely in control but once they came to the narrow ledge it was going to get very rough, let alone the final descent, with luck the drug would have effect by then.

Adam desperately thirsty now, running a higher temperature now that they were on the move, drank willingly, but tried to reassure his brothers, seeing the fear in their eyes. “I’m okay, survived worse, so have both of you.”

“Sure Adam.” Hoss stroked his hair, “But sooner we get you to Doc the better.”

“Not arguing Hoss, so let’s move on.”

Hoss looked questioningly at Joe but his little brother just shrugged, “Might as well do as we’re told Hoss, we always end up doing it.”

Adam even managed a grin at that, but within a few minutes as the men slowly edged their way down unable to keep it so smooth, he couldn’t bite back a moan. Hoss stopped the stretcher swaying but at the unspoken question in Joe’s eye, he said, “No choice Joe.”

The ledge got ever narrower and with little room to manoeuvre, Hoss took both poles of the stretcher at the front, checking every step he took before trusting his weight to it, He was able to keep it smoother with Joe and Jack handling the rear but even so it was very stop start, rough for the injured man. Adam held onto his senses with an effort unable to help the moans as each jolt tore at his damaged body, but as Hoss turned to look at him Adam said “Go on, okay.” He spoke through gritted teeth but Hoss had to accept it, there wasn’t any easier way. Hoss was dreading the rest of the journey, rough as it was, a wagon on the rough rutted road would be much worse. Adam rested easier, trusting his big brother as he wouldn’t anyone else when one stumble could prove disastrous.

Ben had spotted the strange cavalcade and he was waiting at the bottom as Hoss came to a halt, deciding there was little point going any further, they had a flat area to lower the stretcher from and there was room for men to receive it, with nothing obvious to prevent the stretcher going down. They laid the stretcher down gently and Joe went on down to the ropes to pull up three more strong ropes, while Hoss explained to Adam what they intended doing. They would lower the stretcher as carefully as they could but Hoss was scared they’d be unable to prevent it bumping against the wall, inevitably hurting his brother.

Adam smiled, “Whatever Hoss, be easier than coming up.”

Hoss ruffled his hair gently, “Still don’t know how the heck you managed that brother.”

“Fire’s a great incentive.”

“Thank God you did. Just rest a minute, while we get things ready.”


Hoss got his canteen and gave Adam a long drink. Adam closed his eyes and tried to ignore all his pain, not wanting to scare his father, knowing he was waiting below. He knew that his father hadn’t completely recovered, still low on stamina after a long worrying night.

Hoss and Joe had to tie Adam onto the stretcher, avoiding his back with care, as they ensured that he couldn’t fall out or the stretcher collapse as they lowered it. They doubled every rope to be sure and finally sat back with it as safe as they could make it and two ropes ready to lower it, which they would take themselves.

Joe was scared, it looked a long way down and they had so little control but it had to be done. Adam opened his eyes, “Go ahead brothers. I can’t fall out of this cocoon, be fine.”

Joe forced a grin, “Sure you will Adam. We’ll send you down to Pa and then climb down the hard way and rejoin you.”

Then with a prayer he and Hoss took hold of the ropes and with help from Jack and Stevens lowered the stretcher over the edge. They couldn’t help banging it on the edge and all the men tensed as Adam cried out in pain, even though it was swiftly cut off. Joe and Hoss lent out as far as they dared while Jack and Stevens hung onto their legs, to try and stop it banging against the side and they tried to pay the ropes out evenly to keep it level. The strain on them was enormous and once Joe couldn’t help the rope slipping a whole coil and the foot of the stretcher fell fast, jolting Adam badly. He couldn’t help himself screaming and his family all lost colour. Joe blaming himself bitterly wasn’t even aware of the tears on his face as he concentrated on not letting it happen again. The next problem was that the stretcher began swaying, twisting and whatever they did was just making it worse. Well above the heads of the men waiting for it, it banged against the wall, hard and Adam cried out again but he had sufficient control of himself to reach out with his uninjured arm to a handhold on the rock to steady it. Hoss and Joe saw what he was doing and they held the stretcher as still as they could not lowering it until Adam had it steadied, trying to ignore the pain in his back at even that limited use of his muscles. Joe looked over at Hoss, “How can he with those burns?”

“Does what he has to little brother, you should be used to it.”

The seeing Adam let go the brothers continued lowering it until with relief they saw the many waiting hands take hold of the stretcher. They let the ropes go as soon as the stretcher

was lifted clear and then sat back on the ledge. Joe especially was trembling, every muscle in his body feeling weak after the sheer physical effort of holding the rope, apart from the mental pressure, and Hoss wasn’t much better. Both were grateful for the brandy that Jack gave them and Joe sluiced water over his head, surprised to find his cheeks wet. Even so it was nearly five minutes before they felt up to facing the climb down.

Ben had yelled up to see if they were alright but once Hoss confirmed that they were fine Ben concentrated on his eldest son. The damage to his left hand and the pain he was suffering were very evident, but it wasn’t until Ben had very gently untied some of the ropes and removed the tent over his back that he could see the extent of the injuries.  Now the reason for Joe’s state was very clear and Ben was shaken, even though he’d expected trouble. Adam, almost more worried about his father than himself, forced a smile and getting control of his voice with an effort he said, “I’m okay Pa. Looks a mess but everything still working.”

“Just rest Adam, we’ll look after you.”

“Sure Pa, take it easy too, you’re not fit.” His son’s concern for him despite his very obvious pain was almost Ben’s undoing but he concentrated on practicalities and got some broth and persuaded Adam to drink a little after another long drink. By the time Adam had finished his brothers had joined him. Joe tried to apologise for letting the rope slip but Adam just smiled “Forget it Joe, hell of a strain on you. I’m down that’s all that matters.” Then he closed his eyes and dozed off for a few minutes, grateful to be still.

Once he was asleep his family were faced with the problems of moving him home. However much they padded a wagon it was going to be rough, there was noway to avoid him being jolted. Joe suggested trying to sling a stretcher clear of the wagon but with only ones they had available it wasn’t easy to see how they could do it, They toyed with the idea of slinging a stretcher between two horses but it didn’t seem likely to be any easier than the wagon. Ben could only suggest letting Adam sleep for as long as he would, feed him some more laudanum and pray.

Adam only slept for an hour and then to his family’s horror he had his own ideas about travelling home, simply stating that nothing would get him into a jolting wagon, he would ride his own black stallion. None of them had even considered that possibility and their initial reaction was identical, he couldn’t do it. Adam just looked stubborn and ignoring their protests he asked for a drink. Joe knelt down and helped his brother to have a drink. Once he’d had all he wanted Adam said, “Get some gauze or something Joe and find me a shirt.”

“You can’t Adam.”

“Little brother that wagon will jolt; hurt a lot more than riding. You can lead him if you like, fastest way, I want to get home.” Adam bit his lip, close to breaking down and Joe seeing that gave way, “Easy brother, you try and rest and I’ll persuade Pa for you.”

Adam looked up at that and Joe nodded, smiling down at him, reinforced in his determination by the gratitude in Adam’s eyes.

Joe went back to Ben and Hoss to find his big brother already half convinced. He had seen how difficult Adam found the stretcher and maybe Adam was right if he could sit up he could at last move with Blackie, so used to his own stallion. Ben wasn’t at all sure it was a very long way and even if Adam could sit up to start with he didn’t know how far his son could go, Joe agreed but as he said they would only be walking the horses and the wagon could follow them, be there if they needed it. He went on “He’s very determined and he’s not well enough to argue with. He’s always hated wagons and maybe it’s the easiest if he can manage it, we can lead Blackie and he’s very smooth.”

Hoss looked over at Adam, “Only upset him Pa. Guess we don’t have much choice, he’s got that stubborn look.”

“How is he going to mount?”

“Use a mounting block and with help. Sure it’s gonna hurt but that wagon is gonna be hell.”

Ben gave way and helped Joe spread light gauze over Adam’s back and then very gently got a shirt on him, not attempting to tuck it in or do it up, just loosely tying it at the front with string. Adam had managed to sit up with Hoss’ help and bore their ministrations in tight lipped silence but by the time Ben had finished his son was soaked in sweat, the pain very obvious. Ben couldn’t help himself; kneeling down by Adam he wiped his face “Won’t you think again Adam, you aren’t well enough to ride.”

For a minute Adam could only fight for control not trusting his voice but then he managed a smile, “I’ll be alright Pa, easiest way.

Ben was still not convinced but he stood back and let his younger sons help Adam to his feet. Adam lent heavily on Joe while Hoss fetched the mounting block they had contrived with three shallow steps. Then Hoss led Blackie alongside it talking quietly to the horse as he did so, Joe taking it very slowly and taking as much of his brother’s weight as he could led the way up the steps, murmuring encouragement to Adam as he did so, Joe could feel the tension, sense the pain and weakness but they made it to the top and Blackie was standing quietly. It wasn’t going to be easy to get Adam up on Blackie, so hard to give him adequate support without touching his back and both his brothers knew that at any touch he would probably pass out. Slowly Adam pulled his arm away from Joe’s shoulder and as Joe steadied him he grabbed hold of the saddle, moaning as he used the muscles in his back but still determined. He took a few seconds to steel himself and then forced himself to swing his right leg over Blackie, knowing Hoss was there to steady him. It cost him a lot and he barely hung onto his senses, not really aware of his brothers either side, both exhorting him to hold on. Somehow he stopped himself from crying out but the sharp indrawn quivering breath was more eloquent than any cry and Hoss gripped his right arm, resting his own strong arm across Adam’s chest as a support, knowing that his brother was badly conscious. Joe grabbed his canteen and wiped his brother’s face as soon as he had Adam’s foot safely in the stirrup, Ben could only hold Blackie still and pray for his eldest son.

Joe bit his lip as there was no reaction from Adam and looked questioningly at his father did they dare to go on or should they somehow get Adam down to rest. Ben was equally worried but he knew his stubborn eldest son and he said, “Leave him to Hoss, Joseph. Get the rope and tie him on.”

Joe did as he was told and by the time he had finished the worst of the agony had faded and Adam was sitting up asking for a drink. Ben had ensured he’d had a dose of laudanum first and now he gave Adam a drink and asked his son to be sensible, not to push himself into collapse, that wouldn’t help anyone. He knew that Adam wanted to get home but it was still a long way and he gripped Adam’s good right hand and begged him to speak up if the pain got too bad. Adam could see the worry in his father’s eyes and his near exhaustion and he pulled his hand free, resting it on his father’s shoulder for a moment, “I’ll make out Pa. Think it looks worse than if feels, I’ve had worse. Try not to worry, you’re not fit enough.”

“Don’t start worrying about me, you’re alive and you’ll recover, that’s all I need. For a while it didn’t seem too likely.” Ben smiled at his son and then moved back to let Joe fit a thick pad of blankets on the saddle so that Adam could rest his injured left hand. Once that was done Joe mounted Cochise and moved alongside Adam so that Hoss could get his horse. Then he took Blackie’s reins and moved ahead, leaving Hoss to come alongside ready to support his brother, while Ben took Buck up the other side. Ben looked at his son, “Ready Adam?”

Adam nodded and Ben ordered Joe to move out, slowly. Adam gritted his teeth and tried to relax, move with his stallion, ignore the jolting which seemed to go through him but which normally he wouldn’t even notice. The pain was severe but slowly he relaxed a little sure he could take it, at least it was no worse than the stretcher and he was sure it was easier than the wagon. Adam made no attempt to keep upright; slumping over the blankets only his family were with him and they knew how he felt and would be more worried if he tried to act. In many ways his hand hurt more than his back but before very long it all merged until his whole body was full of pain but Adam seemed to be able to hover above it. He knew he was light-headed but he wouldn’t collapse, sure he could get home, a sort of brittle strength he’d relied on before would see him there and to a certain extent he could ignore the pain.

Joe had been keeping the pace at a steady walk, but it inevitably meant very slow progress. Adam knew his stallion very well and slowly decided that Blackie was as smooth at the lope as walking and it would half the time and not really thinking too straight he pushed Blackie on. The stallion was just behind Cochise and the pinto reacted lengthening his stride, catching Joe unawares. Ben at once yelled at Joe, what did he think he was doing. Joe pulled both horses up, “Not my idea Pa, Blackie pushed on.”

Adam lifted his head, “Pa, I want to get home, no worse at a lope, I’m okay.”

Ben frowned and gave Adam a long drink, wiping his sin’s face. Adam was running a temperature but he was bearing up reasonably and his pulse was strong and steady, so he gave way. “Alright Adam, but if you want to slow just say.”

“Thanks Pa.” Adam smiled faintly, despite his pain, he’d got his own way and with so much pain the faster pace made it no worse. For nearly two hours they kept going with Hoss and Ben watching him very closely.

Eventually Ben told Joe to pull up in the clearing just ahead. Adam didn’t even seem aware of the order, for the past quarter of an hour he’d been fighting hard just to hold onto his senses. Ben began unroping his son, telling Joe to make a fire and lay down blankets for his brother. Hoss talked quietly to Adam getting his attention and then slowly gave him simple but precise instructions. It took a long time for them to penetrate as Hoss patiently repeated them but slowly Adam tried to do as Hoss wanted and with his father’s help he managed, Hoss had Adam put his right arm round his neck and then with Ben helping him he swung his left leg over the saddle until Hoss could lift him, still sitting, even though it took all Hoss’ strength,

Hoss ignored the blankets and carried Adam to a nearby fallen tree and rested him on it. Then he knelt down in front and supported his brother’s head on his shoulder, stroking Adam’s hair and talking quietly to him, so very aware of his brother’s pain. For a long while Adam rested against Hoss trembling, glad of his brother’s warm strength. Slowly he relaxed a little as the mists of pain cleared and he got back in control, shuddering slightly as he fought to control his breathing and then he lifted his head.

Ben helped him to drink a weak brandy and water and Adam tried a grin but it didn’t really work. Ben kept it practical “Hot coffee if you want.”

“Please.” Adam drank three cups and looked much brighter although everything had an alarming tendency to swim around him. “Think that brandy went to my head Pa.

“Expect it did, you haven’t eaten.”

“Can’t not yet.”

 “Alright but you can come and sleep it off.”

“I want to get home.”

“I know that son but you’ll do it faster if you rest of an hour or so now. Push yourself into complete collapse and we won’t be moving on for days.”

“I have to get to Carole, she’s pregnant, scared and worried.”

Ben held his son’s undamaged hand “With the telegraph we’ve kept them informed and Sue and Nita are with her, you’ll worry her more if you reach home in complete collapse. You sleep and Joe will go and send a progress report.”

“Of course I will, you rest Adam.” Joe smiled down at him

Ben told Hoss to help his brother over to the blankets and on his father’s promise to wake him in an hour, Adam gave in to his battered body and slept, to his family’s relief.

Hoss helped Adam back into the saddle when he’d forced down a little broth and more willingly some laudanum and they moved on again. Three more times Ben insisted that his son rest for an hour or so but otherwise they kept going despite it getting dark, the road not too dangerous and the cold night air more of a threat for Adam. He was still feverish and couldn’t bear the weight of warm clothes on his back. He was bearing up better than Ben had dared hope although swaying a little in the saddle now. Adam was buoyed up by the prospect of getting home and eager to see Carole, despite all his pain he seemed almost more concerned about her than himself. Hoss had been filled in about Carole’s threatened miscarriage and all three were more willing to let Adam have his own way, knowing just how hard he would take it if things went wrong in his absence. All they could do was to give him as much support, physical and emotional as they could and pray for all three of them.

Joe had twice sent word of their current position and Carole knew that Adam was riding home with his father and brothers. At first just to know that he was alive had seemed enough and although Sue said that the three men had some burns and broken ribs she hadn’t told Carole how seriously Adam was hurt. Sue was amazed to hear that Adam was riding and had assumed that Joe had been over pessimistic so it wasn’t too hard to act reassuringly in front of Carole.

Although Carole had regained her certainty in Adam’s survival and it was no longer blank when she reached out to him, equally she was aware of his pain and knew he must be hurt more seriously than Sue suggested. She did her best to relax and not wanting to talk about it she tried to sleep but she couldn’t help worrying. Tense the pains in her back returned and it was a vicious circle, as fear for their unborn cold added to her fears for Adam, making her tense and increasing the pains and with them her fears.

Sue and Nita took it in turns to sit with Carole trying to get her to relax; even a dose of sedative Doc had left didn’t seem to help. With Joe’s last message that they were only three hours away Sue had already sent for the Doc, She knew that John and Jess were on their way home too and might need medical help. Apart from that all they could do was wait. Nita was on edge although she hid it well from Carole. Sue had told her how badly hurt Adam was and Nita had grown fond of her brother-in-law and knew how much he meant to her husband.

Doc was the first to arrive and did his best to reassure Carole but going out with Sue, leaving Nita with her sister, he was very sombre. “She needs Adam if she can see him, be sure he’s fine, she may relax just enough to hold the baby.”

Sue was very worried and passed on Joe’s original call for help, she finished up “Maybe its not as bad as Joe suggested, he’s riding home but it doesn’t seem too likely that he’s going to do anything other than worry her further.”

Doc sighed, not placing as much reliance on the fact of Adam riding as Sue did, knowing his friend’s dislike of wagons and just how stubborn he was. All he could do was wait and see, although with extensive burns, there would be very little he could do to aid nature, maybe just ease the pain.

All of them were relieved to see the house and Adam seemed to sit a little straighter with the end in sight, a bed where he could give way to his ravaged body’s insistent demands to rest. Ben was grateful to have his son home but he knew that even though Doc would be there, he probably wouldn’t be able to help very much and Adam might have the added shock of bad news to face. Impatient to know, rather to his sons’ surprise Ben decided to leave Adam to them and ride on, knowing that Hoss’ strength was the only way to really help Adam. Nita was downstairs supervising the children’s meal but hearing the horse, she came out shutting the door, leaving them to Kam Su. Ben hurried in and found her waiting, very anxious about Adam.

Ben forced a smile “He’ll be here in a few minutes, Joe and Hoss are with him, he’s badly burnt, in pain but bearing up. Carole?”

“No worse, if no better. Doc is here, up with her and Sue. He’s given her a drug but she’s terribly restless, worried about Adam.”

“How much have you told her?”

“That he’s riding home with you and that the three of them had minor injuries but she seems to know that its more.”

Ben sighed “If she sees.... It shocked all of us and we’re fit.”

Doc heard that from the stairs, “Not that fit Ben. You look exhausted.”

Ben shrugged that away, “What are her chances Paul?”

“No massive haemorrhage, no reason for it to affect her physically more than a normal birth. Good chance that she will be fine but its just too early Ben. The child wouldn’t have any chance, another month and maybe.... “

“Will she miscarry?”

“Unless we can ease her mind, let her body relax then its more than evens chance she will, Its a great pity Adam’s hurt, he is what she needs and yet its him being hurt that has triggered this. Penalties sometimes in being so close.”

“She wouldn’t be alive now if they weren’t and maybe Adam wouldn’t be either.”

“How bad is he Ben?”

“You can see for yourself Doc, just coming into the yard now.”

“Well Carole is resting, I’ve done all I can for her for now. So if Nita you’d sit with her, I may need Sue’s help.”

Nita nodded and was about to go when Ben put his hand on her arm, “Wait for a little. Joseph has had a bad few hours, I think he needs you for a few minutes, to be sure that you are fit and well.” With that Ben hurried out to his sons to hold Blackie while they helped Adam down. Adam’s legs threatened to give under him and he felt sick as waves of pain surged through his body. Everything was threatening to go black but he was determined, Carole was pregnant and he wouldn’t terrify her. Somehow he got control, leaning on Joe, Hoss giving him what support he could and after a minute Adam straightened up and, striving to hide the pain from his face, he let Joe lead him in very slowly.

Doc had already got everything prepared in the end guest room, furthest from Carole and the children, not wanting to disturb anyone else. Very slowly Adam made his way up the stairs, his father and brothers unable to help much, The sheer physical effort and the pain it cost him were more than sufficient to stop him worrying about Carole’s non-appearance. It was taking him all his time to hang onto his senses and it seemed to take forever. He was soaked in sweat after his efforts but eventually he was able to lie down on the bed and Hoss lifted his legs up, while Joe wiped his brother’s face and fed him some water.

Only then did Hoss move over to greet his wife unable to find words, he just pulled her close burying his face against her hair. Ben had followed his sons up and once Adam was lying still he felt his son’s pulse scared just how far Adam had pushed himself, but it was steady enough and although Adam was feverish, his temperature wasn’t that high considering his injuries and the exertion. Doc had frowned at the state of Adam’s hand but for the minute he was more concerned about his old friend who looked drained and exhausted. He took Ben’s arm “You must go and have a meal and then get some rest, Joe why don’t you take your father downstairs. Hoss and Sue can give me all the help I need.”

Joe could see the sense of that, much as he hated leaving Adam and anyway he wanted to see Nita and find out how Carole was. Nita had smiled at him as he came in, obviously fit but she looked tired and worried. Ben hesitated but Adam lifted his head, “Doc’s right Pa. I’m okay, just need to rest. Home now. Go on.”

Ben nodded, knowing he’d only worry his son if he insisted on staying and he pushed Adam’s hair back tenderly, seeing all too much pain apparent in his eyes and said a silent prayer for God’s help for his son and his daughter, before going out with Joe. They couldn’t risk upsetting Carole, not while Doc was busy with Adam and went downstairs together. Ben went to fetch coffee, leaving Joe and Nita alone and for a minute it was enough to hold her, to know at one of his fears was baseless. Nita briefly told him about Carol and in his turn he explained just how badly hurt Adam was. Then she kissed him “I must go back to Carole, she might need me.”

Joe was grateful for all her help and hugged her very tightly for a moment before letting her go, He was glad of the coffee and brandy that his father brought and learnt what Doc had said. Then all any of them could do was to wait. Joe insisted that his father have something to eat, he wasn’t fully fit and it wouldn’t help Adam or Carole for him to be on the verge of collapse. Recognising the sense of it, Ben rather unwillingly took a mild sedative and went to lie down. When Joe checked a little later his father’s weakness had released him into sleep. Joe had never felt further from it and he played with the children while he awaited Doc’s report. They were delighted to see him but despite their prattle, only a small part of his mind was distracted.

Upstairs Doc, with Sue’s help, had very carefully cut away the shirt and lifted the sodden strips of gauze from Adam’s back while Hoss held his brother still. Adam had sufficient control to muffle the moans he couldn’t bit back in his pillow, not wanting to scare Carole. At last the full extent of the damage was revealed and although Joe had said as much, Sue was shocked and horrified, quite unable to understand how Adam could have made the long ride with such injuries. Doc knowing him better was less surprised and just suggested giving Adam a belt to bite on while he did all that he could, not that it would be very much. With Sue’s assistance he cleaned up as best he could, drying the worst of the seepage away and then he sat back considering both Adam’s hand and back. Sue gave her brother a drink and Adam rested, waiting for the agony to fade a little. Doc waited until he saw Adam relax fractionally and then he said, “There’s very little I can do Adam.”

“Realise.” Adam’s voice was low, thickened with pain and Hoss but his lip as he heard it.

Doc went on, “If we try ointment or anything to ease the pain a little it has to be renewed and it’ll keep reopening the tissues. It’s too big an area; you’re losing too much fluid through the pores with no skin to protect it.”

“What are you saying Doc?” asked Hoss, scared that Doc was saying that Adam wasn’t going to recover, That fear was evident in his voice and Doc smiled “Easy Hoss. Your brother is going to be alright. He’s survived the biggest danger, the shock to the body of such a bad injury. No I am just saying we leave nature to it. Put nothing on it, no ointment, no bandages just let the air get to it and dry it up, form a temporary skin until the new skin grows. Bad as it looks only about a third of the skin is actually destroyed and only the full thickness of the skin in a few places, so it will regrow. Its going to mean staying flat on your face Adam for at least a week, maybe ten days and either have someone in here every minute or some sort of strap to prevent you turning in your sleep, because that could set it back days. The damage to your hand is deeper, I’ll have to pad and bandage that. It will take rather longer to heal. The only other thing is to drink as much as you can, compensate for what you’re losing, especially while you’re running a temperature. We need a fire in her, keep it warm because I don’t want even a sheet over your back.”

Hoss nodded, he would see to that at once. Doc pulled out a small tube and gave it to Sue, “These are quite powerful pain killers Adam. You need to be careful with them or you can get dependent on them, but they’ll give you rest when the pain is bad and you need rest. Don’t be too stubborn, ask for help, only you know when it’s unbearable. More you rest the better the body can get on with healing.”

“Doc can I talk to you, alone.”

Doc could guess why but he agreed and Hoss took Sue out to calm her down. Despite all her years of nursing and the suffering she’d seen, or maybe because of it and the knowledge that Adam was in worse pain than he’d admit, she was very upset. She was very fond of Adam and hated to see him so hurt, dreading the long days before it would ease.

Doc sat down by the bed and made no attempt to avoid Adam’s gaze, “I’m not hiding anything Adam. It will heal in time. I am afraid that you will find the pain getting worse over the next few days as it starts to heal but those tablets should help. You hand will be slower and I won’t swear that you’ll get the full use of it back, but most of it and it is your left hand.” Doc faltered to a halt, he’d been talking partly to gain time, seeing the question in Adam’s eye.

Adam knew him too well and smiled faintly “You’ve never lied to me Paul.”

“No and I’m not now.”

“By omission, what’s wrong with Carole?”

Doc didn’t want to upset him, knowing just how weak his friend was, his strength severely overtaxed by the long ride. “What makes you think anything is?” he parried.

Adam sighed “I’m not a fool, she would be here. Anyway she’s part of me I know.” He looked up and the anguish in his eyes had nothing to do with the pain in his body, “Is she alright? Has she lost the baby? I have to know.”

Doc wiped his face, “Easy Carole and the baby are alright at the moment. You try and relax and I’ll tell you all I know.” Doc poured out a large brandy and helped Adam to drink it and then he said, “She’s threatening to miscarry. Sue called me out two days ago and we’re keeping her in bed. If she could just relax and rest she may still carry to term. There’s little risk to Carole, no more than a normal birth, nothing like before, but the baby would be too premature to stand any chance.”

Adam listened in silence and then turned his head away burying his face in his pillow, “My fault. I wasn’t just risking my life but theirs. I didn’t think.”

Doc stroked his hair back, “Easy Adam easy. Certainly fear for you triggered it off but that was just the last straw. She’s been overdoing thing, tense and nervous more than any of us realised. It’s been a worrying year, you were badly hurt and then Beth and Ben’s illness and the cave-in, all on top of what happened last autumn. I’d guess her nerves have never fully recovered, little chance.”

“I should have known.”

“Carole is as stubborn about admitting that she’s less than one hundred percent as you are, especially when she knows how much you’ve had to deal with. It’s not your fault, no ones, just everything caught up with her and she may still pull through it with the baby. If she can just get some proper rest over the next few days, knowing you’re safely home should help.”

“What are the chances?”

“Maybe fifty-fifty and you’ve bucked much worse odds and won.”

Adam had a firm grip on himself now and he was beginning to think more clearly and to plan. He asked for another brandy and Doc helped him drink it and then told him to rest. Doc was going over to the main house to see John and Jess and others with minor injuries but promised to come back once he’d finished, to check on Adam and Carole before going back to town. He sent Joe up to his brother, warning him that Adam had forced the truth about Carole out of him. Joe wasn’t surprised Adam had been bound to suspect something in Carole’s absence. Joe looked in to check with Nita before going to Adam. Carole was still sleeping but very restless and Joe frowned as he studied his sister. Carole was very drawn with huge black rings under her eyes, seemingly getting virtually no benefit from her sleep. Joe went on to join Adam, Hoss had already passed on Doc’s verdict and it was with a sense of shock that  Joe found his brother sitting up, nursing his heavily bandaged left had which he’d banged on getting up. “What do you think you’re doing Adam? Doc said to rest.”


Something in Adam’s expression warned Joe what his brother was planning and he pulled up a chair and took Adam’s right hand, “You’ll kill yourself.”

“Nonsense. If I can sit on a horse, I can sit on a chair. It doesn’t move.” Adam saw the worry in his brother’s eyes and he smiled, “You of all people should understand Joe. Carole’s part of me, our child a joy I feared we’d never know. Doc reckons it’s all mounted up, a disastrous year in some ways, that’s she’s never fully relaxed after last autumn.”

Joe could only grip his brother’s hand tighter, not knowing what to say. Adam rested his aching head against his brother’s shoulder, “We’ve lost one child Joe. To lose this, the fruit of her strength, I don’t know what it would do to her, or me. I have to try. I couldn’t live with myself if I just let it happen without trying.”

Joe held his brother’s head closer to him, stroking his hair aware of the tension in him, knowing he couldn’t stop Adam and wouldn’t even try. “Alright I’ll get Nita to find you some clothes, call Hoss to help. Pa is asleep. Do you want some coffee?”

“Please and thanks Joe.” Adam relaxed a little, although he had been certain of his youngest brother’s understanding and support. Joe didn’t want to leave him for long and called down to Hoss from the top of the stairs asking him to bring up some coffee and then he put his head round the door, telling Nita exactly what clothes to bring and where to find them. She looked puzzled but Joe just kissed her “Bring them to the end room and |I’ll explain.”

Then he went back to his brother, where Hoss and Sue were just arriving. To their surprise Joe opened the door of the adjacent room and gestured them in. Before they could ask any questions Joe said, “Just a minute.” He poured out a cup of coffee, taking care not to overfill it and took it into Adam. His brother was sitting where he had left him, leaning forward slightly to ease his back and breathing deliberately deep and slow, as he sought to hide all his pain and fear. Adam was glad of the coffee and Joe said “Be back in a minute, just let me explain to Hoss.” He read Adam’s gratitude in his eyes and smiling at his brother went back to Hoss who was almost bursting with impatience, unusual as it was for the big man “What’s going on Joe?”

“Adam forced Doc to tell him about Carole. He’d guessed, seen our reaction and with her not around.... He was scared she had already lost the baby and Doc had no choice.”

Sue frowned “Is he very upset?”

Joe nodded “Of course, but that’s not all. You know Doc said Carole and the baby would have a chance if she could just rest....”

Hoss moved over to his brother “What’s he doing Joe?”

“He wants to get dressed, go and sit with her, until she rests. Convince her that he’s fine apart from a damaged hand.”

Hoss just stared at him but Sue protested, “He can’t, you heard Doc, he’s hurt, badly hurt, he must rest.”

Joe answered the question in Hoss’ eyes, “I promised him we’d help. He had to try Hoss. He said it, he couldn’t live with himself if he lets his child die without trying. You know what this child means to them both. Doc reckons it can all be traced back to last autumn and all the trouble this year hasn’t helped. There’s noway he is going to rest until he has tried.”

Hoss turned away to the window, he knew Adam’s endurance but equally he knew his pain, but as he stared up at the mountains he remembered the tiny pathetic corpse they had buried once before and like Joe he knew he wouldn’t be trying to dissuade Adam just to help him.

Sue couldn’t help herself and told both of them they were fools as Hoss nodded his agreement to Joe. She insisted that Adam would just force himself into total collapse and ensure Carole was terrified and lost the baby. Hoss put his arm round her “You don’t know Adam like we do. We won’t change his mind so why make it worse for him? We’ll help as much as we can and he won’t collapse, not yet anyway, not until it’s settled.”

Joe had already gone back to his brother and Nita had just joined him with clothes that Joe had requested. She had been told the extent of the damage but it wasn’t until she saw for her self that she really understood and shocked she couldn’t see how Adam could sit up, how he’d ridden home. Not wanting to upset either him or her own husband, she had gone over to the window and stood staring out. As Hoss and Sue came in Joe asked “Sue will you give Nita a brandy, she’s upset. Hoss give me a hand.”

Between them Joe and Hoss edged Adam into his trousers and Joe pulled socks and shoes on. They were very careful and managed not to hurt him too much but then they had to get his shirt on. The younger brothers met each other’s eye knowing there was no way to avoid hurting him but there was no point in putting it off. Joe collected some gauze and carefully laid it over Adam’s back, half a dozen layers to absorb the weeping from the burns. He was very gentle but Adam couldn’t help a moan and Hoss moved to support Adam’s head. Joe slipped the shirt over Adam’s injured left hand and then pulled it round the opening held as clear as he could as he helped Adam to pull his right arm back and into the shirt, moving as fast as he could to pull the shirt up, knowing the pain was inevitable, all he could do was limit its duration. He had slipped Adam’s vest on at the same time and at least the worst was done.

Adam had slumped forward at the pain, only held up by Hoss, breaking out in a cold sweat with the pain, his breathing fast and uneven, but as Sue started forward her husband shook his head slightly and she stopped. Hoss just held his brother murmuring encouragement, while Joe went to pour some brandy. Slowly the agony eased and Adam forced himself to breath evenly and deeply thankful for his brother’s warm strength. After five minutes he was able to straighten up and once Joe had wiped his face Adam gratefully drank the brandy. Sue bit back her protest that he was in shock and shouldn’t have alcohol, Adam didn’t seem to work by the normal rules. Joe waited until he’d finished it and then buttoned his shirt, the biggest Nita had been able to find but even so it pulled hard across his back and Adam bit his lip. Then to Joe’s horror he ordered his brother to tie a sling round his neck. Joe protested knowing the bad burn that it was bound to catch but Adam smiled, “No choice Joe, Carole’s not a fool, anything out of the ordinary and she’ll suspect. Tie it, she won’t be that surprised that I’m not using it.”

Joe went to protest but Hoss put his hand on Joe’s arm “He’s right Joe, tie it loose, round my hands.” He held both his hands a little way away from Adam’s neck and Joe tied it. The additional weight hurt but slowly the pain eased as Adam sat unmoving. Once he was ready Adam asked for more coffee and sat quietly for five minutes trying to relax and slowly hide the worst of his pain. Sue had seen him do it before in the days immediately after Carole was kidnapped but Nita watched amazed.

Hoss told Sue to go back to Carole and if she was awake warn her that they were back, but at least get a chair ready for Adam and coffee on hand. When she’d gone Hoss helped Adam to his feet and Joe moved to support him, shorter than Hoss it placed less strain on Adam’s back muscles. Joe didn’t rush letting Adam set the pace but as they reached the door to his own room Adam stopped leaning heavily on Joe while he collected his strength. Then he pulled away and somehow he managed to walk in straight and unaided, Carole was awake and worried about Adam with Sue trying to reassure her. Adam had even put his arm in the sling although it wasn’t resting on the material, Sue moved out of his way and even knowing how good he was at hiding his feelings she was amazed. Adam smiled down at Carole as he slipped into the chair and took her hand, “Darling sorry to worry you, we sort of lost contact for a while.”

Carole was till very dopey from the drugs she’d been given but so relieved she could only cling to his hand. Adam bent forward and kissed her, “Everything is going to be alright darling.”

“Your hand?”

“Bit burnt, sore and damned nuisance but at least it’s my left hand. Nothing to worry about. I love you.”

Carole was close to tears with relief and Adam kissed her forehead, “let it go sweetheart, do you good.” That was the final straw and Carole burst into tears holding Adam’s hand to her cheek. Adam would have liked to take her in his arms but he couldn’t bear any touch on his back as she responded and so he contented himself with stroking her face and talking to her. Slowly Carole calmed down and demanded to know exactly what had happened, was Jess alright? Adam gave her a short version, some of it he couldn’t have gone into details even if he’d wanted and then poured them both coffee, Carole told him a little of her fears for him and their child. Adam smiled “You can see the first is proved wrong.” and resting his hand on her stomach he went on, “From the way she’s kicking so’s the second. Feels very healthy to me.”

Carole smiled at him, rather watery but the first she’d managed and accepted some more coffee, relaxing she felt better than for days, but very tired. Adam talked quietly to her so tied up in his wife that it wasn’t even really an act, his pain hovered over him but it was almost as though it was happening to someone else.

Hoss and Joe waited in the doorway of the next room where they could see Adam and be ready to move to help him if his strength should fail but hidden by the door from Carole and not really intruding as they couldn’t hear the low voiced conversation between husband and wife, knowing neither of them would mind.

After nearly two hours Nita slipped into warn them that Ben was moving around. The brothers frowned at each other and Hoss sighed, “You’ve got the silver tongue little brother, go use it. Keep him calm, he’s been worried enough still short on stamina.”

Joe nodded, “I’ll try but he’s okay just tired.”

Hoss was very sombre, “Maybe but if he carries on the way he has the last few days he will be ill again.”

Joe slipped out and found his father downstairs fending off the twins. Once they had been calmed down Joe got coffee and asked his father to join him in the study for a few minutes. Ben looked worried and Joe smiled “Easy Pa, no fresh trouble.”

Ben followed Joe in and sat down and Joe shut the door, a signal to the twins to leave them alone. Ben sat down with his coffee, “Well Joseph?”

“Doc will be coming back later as you can talk to him yourself. Adam will be alright but there’s not a lot he can do to help. He said that Adam should stay in bed for ten days or so with someone around or later a strap to make sure he stays on his front. Doc has bandaged his hand but reckons its best to leave his back uncovered let it dry up in its own time. He did warn us that the pain is likely to get worse for a few days before it starts healing properly but Adam can cope and Doc’s left some strong pain killers with Sue.” Joe came to a stop and went and poured two brandies.

Ben knew his son very well and so far Joe had only told him what he had known was inevitable, the expression in Joe’s eyes warned him that there was more to come. Joe passed him one glass and drained his own. “Adam never misses anything Pa. Carole wasn’t there so he knew there was something wrong.”

“That was inevitable.”

“Sure. Adam asked to talk to Doc alone, didn’t trust us not to prevaricate. Doc said he had no choice Adam was scared she’d lost the baby.”

“How did he take it?”

“Worried of course but...” Joe moved over to grip his father’s shoulder “Pa try not to worry, he’ll manage. He’s sitting with her, has been for more than two hours, He got Hoss and I to help him dress, even a sling and he’s only told her about his hand, Hoss is in the dressing room keeping an eye on him.”

Ben frowned, knowing they’d got to the point now. “Why Joe? Why did you help him, he’s not up to it.”

“I couldn’t refuse him Pa. He said I should understand and I do.” Joe looked at his father, the intensity in his green eyes was very obvious. “Neither of us wanted him to suffer more pain. Sure he should be resting, knocked out by one of those tablets Doc left, but that’s for now. There are years ahead, a little more pain now against years of it. He said it Pa. Doc believes this threatened miscarriage in some ways dates back to that attack last autumn, that she’s never had a chance to fully recover. Adam called it the fruit of her strength and you know what this child means to both of them. He said he didn’t know how they’d cope if they lost it just that he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t try to save it. What else could we do but help?”

Ben frowned and for a moment didn’t answer and then he smiled “Of course Joseph. God has been with him he won’t leave them now it’ll be alright.” Ben drained his brandy and then with his son went up to join Hoss.

In the next room, Adam and Carole had fallen quiet, she was still holding his hand tight for reassurance but dopy was close to sleep. Adam studied her face, the huge black rings under her eyes and the pallor of her skin, but the lines of tension had eased since he’d come in and he’d seen her relax. He lent forward and kissed her, “Don’t fight it darling, go to sleep, it’s what you need.”


“I won’t leave you until you’re asleep but then I’ll go and get some. Don’t worry about me, just rest, and we’ll all three be fine.”

“I love you.”

“I know my precious sweetheart and you know that you mean more than anything in the world to me.”

 Carole smiled and closed her aching eyes, the sight of Adam’s face, the love so clearly written on it stayed in her mind as she slipped into sleep, almost a talisman to prove everything would be alright. Totally relaxed for the first time since she’d seen the fire on the west shore, Carole got the sleep she needed, not just drug induced but natural sleep with all its beneficial effects. Adam sat looking down at her until he was sure that she slept and then the iron control he’d put over his body slipped a little and the pain surged back into his consciousness, he gasped and swayed slightly. His father and brothers hadn’t lost any of their concentration and almost as soon as Adam caught his breath all three moved. Adam seemed barely conscious and Hoss supported him while Joe very carefully slipped Carole’s hand from Adam’s and wrapped her up more warmly, Ben murmured “Over your shoulder Hoss.”

Hoss lifted his brother and all Adam could do was to bite down, stop himself crying out. As they came out on the landing Doc was standing talking to Sue but Hoss ignored him and as quickly as he could carried his brother back to bed. Doc had been shocked by what Jess had told him, the difficult climb Adam had made. He had wondered just how Adam had managed to hurt his hand so badly, but even knowing his old friend’s endurance he’d been amazed when Jess explained. Then on arriving back at Adam’s house, Sue had told him just what Adam was doing in direct contradiction of his orders and Paul was seriously worried.

Adam’s will power was second to none but he’d already severely overtaxed his body with first that climb and then the long ride home. Paul was scared that he could still push himself into shock and with all the fluid he’d lost and the pain that could still prove fatal.

Seeing Hoss carry his brother out Doc was scared that his worst fears had been proved right and he hurried after the brothers. As Hoss eased Adam down onto the bed with Joe’s help Doc turned to Ben, “How could you let him? He’s a very sick man, you know that as well as I do.”

Joe went swiftly to his father’s defence, “Pa was sleeping it was our decision to help, mine mainly.”

Ben smiled “Easy Joseph. Even if I’d been awake Doc I wouldn’t have tried to stop him. Adam had to try to save his child and from what I’ve seen he’s done it. Carole is sleeping peacefully for the first time, that quiet rest you said she needed.”

Adam heard his father as though from a great distance, but the words made sense, and he slowly turned his head to focus on Ben, “Thanks Pa.”

Ben went over to the bed, “You’ve done all you can for Carole. I think it will prove enough, so now you are going to give in. Hoss get some scissors let’s cut this off.”

Adam smiled faintly “At this rate I won’t have any clothes left Pa.

“You can buy new ones, anyway I never liked this shirt. You’ve had more than enough pain makes sense to minimise it where we can, Get you settled in bed, have a drink and then you are going to take one of those pain killers Doc brought and like Carole, get some rest.”

It was all that Adam wanted and indeed he had a job to hold onto his senses as his brothers cut the clothes away and got him lying comfortably as possible. He wouldn’t cry out in case it disturbed Carole or his children but as he bit down on his belt, the cries welled up in him, his whole body seemed to be on fire again. Ben wiped his face and once they’d finished Doc checked his back cleaned the worst parts where the shirt had stuck pulling away the crust which had begun to form. Ben gave him a drink of warm milk and Adam forced down two glasses although he couldn’t face food. Then he gratefully took the tablet Sue offered him before closing his eyes and shutting out all the people who were reeling alarmingly round him. Doc took his pulse and temperature, rather higher after all his exertions but he made no comment until Adam’s breathing deepened and he relaxed into sleep.

Ben straightened up as his son’s weakness released him into oblivion for a while at least. “He’s asleep Hoss will you sit with him for now, I’ll take over later but I want a word with Doc.”

Hoss nodded and settled down by the bed. Sue kissed him seeing the worry on his face, “I’ll just see what Doc’s instructions are and then I’ll bring you up a tray.” The big man couldn’t even answer, he didn’t want to talk, even to his beloved wife for the minute, badly shaken by the pain he’d seen his brother go through, knowing that it would last for a while yet. He needed time alone to get a grip on himself, remember just how much they had to be grateful for.

Doc looked in on Carole before he went downstairs, although he didn’t touch her. As Ben had said she was sleeping peacefully, even a slight smile on her lips and for the first time Doc felt reasonably confident that she would keep the baby; the vicious circle had been broken. As he came out Ben asked “Well?”

“If she can sleep like that for twelve hours then I should think she stands an excellent chance. As you said Adam seems to have done the trick, but at a very high price.”

“How bad is he Paul?”

Doc didn’t answer, just going through to pour himself a drink, at ease in Adam’s house. He sipped it and then turned to the four Cartwrights who’d followed him into the study. Joe had one arm round his wife and the other round Sue who looked equally worried. Doc forced himself to smile, “Relax all of you. He has no right to be alive. I heard from Jess about that climb, impossible! Still we all know Adam; he’s never obeyed the normal rules, anymore than you two or Hoss. He’s going to be okay provided there are no more escapades. Still a risk of driving himself into shock, he nearly did this time. He’ll be badly scarred of course, not that the scars will bother him much but I can’t guarantee how much use he’ll retain in his hand. There will be some, probably most and it’s his left hand so I shouldn’t worry.”

Ben said “What worries me Doc is the risk of infection. Before when he burnt his arm, you had us redress it twice a day even though he passed out with the pain because of that risk. You said it was a bad burn and we couldn’t take the risk despite the pain as it could cost him his life or at least his arm. Now this time you say don’t touch don’t even cover. Why?”

Joe had been worried about that too and his arms tightened involuntarily round the girls’ shoulders. Sue already knew the answer and she pulled away going to fetch fresh coffee feeling that they all needed it. For a moment Paul didn’t answer, going over to the fire he stared at the painting of the Lake as he sought for the words. Then very quietly he said, “You’re right Ben it’s a risk, a danger if you like. In many ways you’re lucky out here, clean air from the mountains, maybe that’s why wounds tend to stay healthy and heal fast. I’ve rarely had any trouble with you or your men from infected wounds. In hospital infections pass round despite all that we can do and they are very common. Adam stands a much better chance here than he would in town. Unfortunately it’s a risk we have to take. Jess used melted snow to clean Adam’s back, probably as safe as anything and it all looks clean enough. The area is just too large to do anything but leave it alone. He’s losing too much fluid. The basic water we can replace easily enough and since you’ve been doing it he’s been back in his right mind. The loss of it was probably the reason he didn’t know you rather than the pain. Trouble is along with the water he’s losing other things, probably vital but noone knows enough to be sure of replacing them. After shock that loss is the most dangerous thing in extensive burn cases. The only way we can minimise the loss is to ignore infection and leave the burn strictly alone to crust over. Leave his own body to find the way to stop the loss. Anything that we do would interfere with that process and with burns this extensive that risk is grater than the risk of infection.”

Ben listened in silence and then going over to the window he stared out, knowing just how bad it could be if Adam picked up an infection with his extensive injuries, unlike his arm there wouldn’t even be the possibility of amputation and barring a miracle it would still cost his son his life. Doc could see his old friend’s fear in the slump of his shoulders and he went over. “Take it easy Ben. Adam’s been a lot worse and recovered, no reason he can’t do it again, God’s never let you down yet.”

Joe nodded “Hoss said it Pa. God must have given Adam the strength to make that climb, he won’t leave him now.”

Ben relaxed fractionally and took the coffee that Sue handed him, with a healthy slug of brandy in it. He was going to go back to Adam but Sue insisted he eat first, she already had a tray prepared for Hoss.

For the rest of the day and night they took it in turns to sit , one with Adam and one with Carole, getting rest when they could, leaving the children largely to Kam Su and Hop Sing. Most of the time Nita and Sue stayed with their husbands, knowing how upset and worried they were, but not really able to help except by being there. When Nita tried to put it into words Joe shushed her, just holding her close on his knee, “There aren’t any words, all we can do is pray, but it helps just to have you here, more than you’ll ever know.” Joe wasn’t exaggerating both he and Hoss were helped just to know something in their world was right that their wives and unborn children were well.

At least being together they bullied each other into eating and resting, in fact there was very little any of them could do, Carole was sleeping very peacefully and although Adam moaned from time to time and even roused sufficiently to drink more milk when it was offered to him, he didn’t really wake up. The lines of pain were etched deep in his face as he slept without any attempt to hide the pain and occasionally it was a job to hold him still as he writhed trying to get away from the pain, but most of the time he lay quiet, just moaning occasionally as the pain caught him.

Nita was sitting with Carole when she finally awoke late the next afternoon, having slept for more than twenty four hours. Carole looked and felt different again for her long sleep, the black smudges gone from under her eyes as, more importantly, were all the aches and pains, the tension which had nearly lost her the baby. Nita had a pot of coffee which Hop Sing had brought up a few minutes before and poured some for Carole, smiling as she handed it to her. “You look much better, how do you feel?”

“A different woman.” Carole slipped her coffee, she was very thirsty but relaxed now and confident her baby was going to be alright, back in control of herself. “Where’s Adam?”

Nita was ready for that “Using one of the guestrooms for now, getting some sleep, they all lost a couple of nights.” She had her voice under control but she wouldn’t meet Carole’s gaze, not sure how much her own eyes would give away. Carole didn’t miss that and sipped her coffee quietly letting herself feel Adam’s mood, aware of his pain. As though he was still sitting there she could see his face as he’d looked down at her just before she went to sleep. The deep love she’d seen then was still just as clear but now she could see the pain and weakness he had striven so hard to hide, succeeding while she was dopey but not enough now. For the moment she just drank her coffee asking about the children and once she had more coffee she asked for some food, The baby was important and she wouldn’t risk it’s life again so she was going to be practical and eat first before forcing someone to tell her the truth about her husband, already sure he was more seriously hurt than he had let her know.

Carole made a good meal and then asked Nita who was awake. On hearing Ben was up and around she asked to see him. Ben and Joe were both with Adam and when Nita came across to pass on Carole’s request, Joe looked worriedly at his father, “What are you going to tell her Pa?”

Ben parried with another question, “How is she Nita?”

“She looks much better, not drawn anymore, colour’s back and she ate well. Seems relaxed but I’m no expert.”

Ben sighed “I’ve never lied to Carole anymore then to any of you.”

“But Pa if you tell her....” Joe broke off scared that all his brother had achieved at a high price would be undone.

Ben recognized that fear, “She has to know sometime Joseph. When he doesn’t reappear she’s going to guess something is wrong. Anyway she’s as close to your brother as we are, if not closer, if we can feel his pain don’t you think she can? After all she went into town after that cave-in.”

“I know Pa, it’s just the baby.”

“Carole is strong, she’s proved that. When she knows how much it cost Adam to give the baby a chance I’m betting she’ll have the strength to ensure his effort wasn’t wasted.”

Joe started to say “You’re betting....” but he broke off biting his lip not wanting to make things worse.

Ben gripped his shoulder “I know I’m betting the baby’s life and maybe even their sanity at least temporarily, I just don’t see I have any choice. Just pray for her Joseph, for all of them.”

To the surprise of both of them Hoss answered him from the door where he had heard every word. “We’ve all been doing that for hours Pa and I reckon God hears.”

Ben straightened up and went over to his big son “Stay with your brothers.” He added very quietly “When we know how Carole takes it Joe must rest, he’s hardly had any.”

“I’ll look after them Pa you can promise Carole that.”

Ben went along the corridor and knocked. Carole called him in, sitting up in bed looking very beautiful if rather worried, Ben pulled up a chair and took her hand, “You look much better for a long sleep young lady.”

“I feel it Pa. I went to pieces not something I usually do and I’m not very proud of myself but I’m back in control now.”

“Just been overdoing things, you must take care.”

“Oh I will and I’ll carry this baby to term just as the others, I’m alright now Pa but I want to know what’s wrong with Adam.”

“I had guessed, he’s asleep at the moment.”

Carole smiled faintly, “That’s no answer, I know my husband and although I was too dopey to realise it yesterday I could see he was hurt in pain and it’s more than just a burnt hand. What’s wrong Pa I have to know.”

Ben patted her hand “I know you do child and I’ve never lied to you. I have no intention of starting now, Firstly Adam is going to be fine but he has at least a couple of very miserable weeks ahead. Not only is his left hand burnt, but his back is also burnt from the waist to the hairline and we can only wait for nature to heal it. It will scar inevitably but otherwise shouldn’t worry him too much. Doc has told him to stay in bed on his stomach for the next ten days or so, not cover the burns at all. Let them seal and start healing. He’s in considerable pain but Doc’s left some strong pain killers.”

Carole searched Ben’s eyes as he spoke, seeking reassurance and finding some but she was close to tears, worried for her husband hating him to be hurt. Ben took her in his arms, “Go on cry Carole, don’t bottle it up, he’s going to know all too much pain in the next few days but pain can be lived through and he will be fine that’s all that really matters.” Carole gave way to her tears and sobbed against her father-in-law’s shoulder, remembering how Adam had sat there next to her, he must have been in agony and yet he’d hidden it. Eventually she lifted her tear stained face, “How could he sit there, clothing rubbing on his back and smile?”

“Because he loves you and because that unborn child in your womb means so much to both of you, he called it the fruit of your strength Carole. He said that he couldn’t live with himself without trying to save it, so his brothers helped him dress and didn’t even try to dissuade him. I was asleep but I’d have done the same. He wanted to give you the rest you needed to relax and hold the child, he’s done that, certainly it cost him extra pain but it was what he had to do. Now only you can show if that pain was worthwhile.”

Carole just stared at him for a long moment and then she smiled “It won’t have been in vain Pa. I won’t lose this child. Can I see him?”

“If you want but as I say he’s asleep. It might be better to leave it until tomorrow, you’re so close he’s bound to know when you come in and he’s worried about you so ....”

“It’ll disturb him and he needs to rest.”

Ben nodded “Look I’m not hiding anything Carole, his back is a mess. Maybe a third of it is raw, a lot of the rest blistered and weeping but it will heal. I know it will shock you when you see it but he’s going to need you so you’ll have to face it and I’m equally sure that you can as you have faced much worse in the past. He’s hurt, in pain but nothing like as ill as he has been, either with the bullet from Addison or that pneumonia. Weak and in pain but not in danger.”


“Always a risk, we nearly lost Hoss from blood poisoning, from just a graze on his hand. With a big area of damage maybe it’s bigger than usual but we’re keeping a close watch and for now it’s perfectly healthy, good chance it will remain so.”

Carole nodded “I think I’d like some more coffee Pa.

“I’ll get some fresh.”

“Could you pass me Adam’s bible.”

“Are you alright child?”

She smiled, “Yes Pa, I’m alright. I promise Adam’s effort won’t be in vain, that’s the least I can do.”

Ben lent over and kissed her, “Adam was very lucky when he met you Carole.” With that he went out sensing that she wanted to be alone to come to terms with what he had told her, with God’s help. He spared time to go back to his sons before fetching coffee and beckoned Joe and Hoss out onto the landing, leaving Nita to tend Adam. “She’s taken it as well as we could have hoped. As I expected she knew something was seriously wrong and I’ve told her exactly how he’s been hurt. She swears his effort won’t be in vain, she won’t lose the baby.”

Hoss grinned “She’s as stubborn as Adam. I won’t bet against her, she’ll manage.”

Joe was searching his father’s eyes and reading Ben’s confidence there, he lent against the wall feeling weak with relief. Ben gripped his arm “Easy Joseph, they’ll all be fine. You go and get some rest, you’ve hardly had any and you’re going to start worrying Nita.”

“I am a bit tired Pa. I’ll just have a word with Carole.”

Ben didn’t stop him and Joe slipped into see Carole. He just kissed her and said, “Well done Carole, at least it’ll put Adam’s mind at rest. Bless you.”

“You look tired Joe.”

“Just a bit. I’m heading for bed now. He’ll be alright especially once he knows you are.”

“Have you been sitting with him?”

“Yes but he’s sleeping fairly peacefully. Hoss is with him now, don’t worry we’ll look after him.”

Carole smiled, “Don’t you think I know that Joe. Go get some rest we’ll both be fine.”

Joe kissed her forehead and went out, borrowing another spare room. He settled down thanking God for the strength he had given to both Adam and Carole, Reasonably happy about Carole and trusting his eldest brother’s strength he was able to get to sleep fairly quickly. Nita looked in on him half an hour later and he was fast asleep. She was glad to see it and went down to join Sue and Hoss for dinner. Ben was with his son and Carole had asked to be left alone. She was quite calm and had buried herself in a book, knowing that her husband was asleep and there was nothing she could do for him. She shared Adam’s ability to lose herself in a book and it was the easiest way to relax and stop worrying unable to sleep again yet after a long rest. Sue and Nita wandered in occasionally to see if she wanted anything and Hoss came in once to see for himself but most of the time they left her alone. She ate well and accepted a sedative to sleep again after ten, determined to get up in the morning and see for herself how her husband was.

Ben sat by his eldest son but Adam was sleeping reasonably peacefully and Ben was able to relax, confident in Carole’s strength and in his eldest son. Ben even managed a good meal when Hop Sing brought him a tray.

Hop Sing studied Adam, “When healed enough I make salve help scars go away. Number one son be fine. Children all fed ready for bed. Mr Hoss tell them story when he finish eating.”

Ben smiled up at him, “Thanks Hop Sing I think everyone feels a bit more like eating today.”

“Mr Hoss making up for missed meals, Kam Su has broth ready for Mr Adam when he wakes.”

Ben watched him leave so grateful for all his help but for now Adam needed rest more than anything and could afford to miss a few meals. Still his family were all home safe and would all be fully fit in time and for that Ben thanked God.

Adam finally woke about eight, very stiff, the moment he tried to move stabbing pains in his back reminded him forcibly what had happened. Ben had been deep in his thoughts and it wasn’t until he heard Adam’s sudden indrawn breath that he realised his son was awake, he lent forward and stroked Adam’s hair, “Easy Son, just lie still everything will be alright.”


“She’s marvellous, slept for more than twenty four hours after you left her, very peacefully. She looks several hundred percent better. She says that you aren’t to worry, she will carry this baby to term and I am sure she will.”

“How much does she know Pa?”

“Everything. I told her myself and if she sleeps tonight I promised she could come and see you tomorrow, She already knew a lot, she’s as close to you as your brothers. She took it quite calmly, had a good cry and then settled down with a book.”

Ben gave Adam a long drink, “She is alright Son, my word on it, Will you try and eat, you’ve missed a lot of meals.”

Adam agreed to try and Ben called down to Kam Su who had some chicken stew ready, light enough for a sick man. Adam found it hard to eat; even swallowing seemed to send surges of pain through him, bringing tears to his eyes and waves of nausea in their wake. He persevered but could only manage half the bowl Kam Su had brought up before he had to say, “No more Pa.

Ben put the bowl and spoon down and wiped his son’s face, “Easy Adam you’ve done fine, Do you want a drink?”

Adam, fighting nausea, not daring to be sick knowing the pain that it would cause, hardly heard him and tensing up the pain worsened until with a sigh he slipped back into unconsciousness. Ben was more worried by that than he dared admit even to himself and there was nothing that he could do to help. Hoss had wandered up hearing from Kam Su that his brother was awake and seeing his father’s fear, he gripped Ben’s shoulder. “Best thing for him Pa, more he rests over the next week or so the better.”

“I know Hoss, just hate to see him in such pain, him or any of you; it seems to happen so often.”

“You’re overtired Pa, last one to be sick was you. It passes and he’ll forget. We’re all here, all fit normally, not bad when you consider what coulda happened.”

Ben had to admit the truth of that and let Hoss bully him into going to bed while he took over by this brother. Joe was awake by three in the morning and he took over from Hoss so that his big brother could join his wife in bed. Twice Adam stirred and his brothers gave him a drink but he didn’t really wake enough to know where he was or what had happened until nine in the morning. Unfortunately Doc was proving right, the pain was worse than it had been initially but once he’d collected his wits Adam found that he could cope and refused any drugs although he did accept a brandy before forcing down some breakfast. He did his best to reassure his father, very aware of the deep concern that Ben couldn’t hide. Joe came in as Adam finished and smiled down at his brother, “Woken up finally! You’ve got a visitor coming any minute, so let’s at least wash your face.”


“Who else. She’s had her breakfast, done rather better than you and she’s getting dressed now. She looks a different girl from the one you saw the other day.”

Adam shivered, scared of the reaction Carole would have on seeing his back, “Maybe you ought to cover it.”

Joe bent down and gripped his brother’s right hand, “Trust Carole, she’s as strong as you are. She knows what happened and she needs to see for herself. She’s alright now, the baby is fine; she won’t waste all your efforts.”

Adam looked up the fear for his wife and child clear in his eyes, even hiding the pain temporarily. Joe ruffled his hair gently “Easy Adam, you haven’t got a monopoly of obstinacy or strength, she’s as strong as you are.”

Adam didn’t look convinced but before he could answer the door opened and Carole came in. Adam lifted his head, biting his lip against the pain but only really aware of his wife. Carole thought she was prepared for what she would see but even so it was worse  than she’d allowed himself to think, crusting over slowly, it looked worse than when the others had first seen the injuries. She couldn’t help the tears which sprung into her eyes but seeing the fear so clear on her husband’s face, she forced a smile. She moved over to the chair Joe held ready for her and she cupped her hand round her husband’s cheek, holding his right hand. For a minute she couldn’t find any words mesmerized by her husband’s damaged back and Adam said urgently “I’ll be fine darling, are you alright?”

She lent forward and kissed him “You’ve done enough for us, we’re both fine and we’re going to stay that way and now I can help look after you my darling.”

“Looks worse than it is.”

“And you’re a liar, but the only important thing is that you will be alright, the pain will pass, don’t try to act there’s no need.”


Carole kissed his forehead “I mean it darling, I know that you’re in pain, and if it helps to yell at someone then we’re here for it. I won’t go to pieces again I promise.” She touched his chin, “Quite an impressive beard my love, are you going to grow one?”

“Don’t think I can face being shaved.”

“Well I’ve often wondered what you’d look like with a beard but I warn you it’s only temporary. Once you’re back on your feet and I have satisfied my curiosity you shave it off. I really don’t like beards.”

“Deal.” Adam smiled, thankful that she was so calm and relaxing slightly, the pain eased. His father and brother could both see it and left them alone, telling Carole just to call if they needed anything.

Carole talked quietly with her husband and they were content just to be together, no secrets between them, helping each other. Eventually Adam dozed off, still holding her hand. In sleep the pain lines were clearer, but that made little difference Carole knew him very well and she could feel all too accurately the agony he was living through.

Joe came up to see if they wanted more coffee and found her sitting by Adam, holding his hand, tears streaming down her face at his pain. In his brother’s absence Joe took charge, gently releasing her hand from Adam’s and then he took her in his arms and let her have her cry against his shoulder. Carole knew that Joe loved her too and made no protest when Joe led her out, calling to Nita to come and sit with Adam. Joe talked Carole into lying down until lunchtime and found her book for her.

 Over lunch Joe was very quiet but rather to his family’s surprise he rode out straight after lunch, going over to the main house to collect the outstanding work. Jess was there keeping things ticking over and Joe thanked him for his efforts before giving him the latest news, The threat to Carole and the baby had spread and Jess was very relieved that she was better knowing just how hard it would hit Adam if anything went wrong. Joe didn’t hide anything knowing just how much his brother meant to Jess and promised that, in a few days when Adam was a bit stronger Jess could come and visit. It would help them keep Adam quiet always a major problem when his brother was ill. One piece of news from town at least distracted Joe’s attention momentarily, news from John Marye that the Ophir stock was on the slide. The first move in the possible stock collapse which they had been expecting. So far it was only a gradual slippage but Marye, an expert on the Comstock market expected it to gain momentum fast. As they had already sold their own spare stock it didn’t affect then directly but Joe sent word back asking to be kept informed.

Joe rode up to the lake torn two ways, unsure what to do for the best. Someone had to deliver some papers, contract queries, to Sacramento but Jess would be perfectly capable of doing it and very willing, as his father had suggested. Joe didn’t want to leave his wife or his brother while Adam was still so ill, but there was very little that he could do, especially now that Carole was back on her feet. In Sacramento he might be able to do more. Sitting by the lake it was as though Marie was making up his mind for him, he remembered the freedom she gave him to risk forcing the pass with Hoss through the heavy snow to find some books. Then it had taken four days, now with the train he could be back in less than two. If it had been worth it before with the risks involved, it seemed equally worth while now. Joe decided to talk it over with Nita and his father first, but tentatively planned to catch the early train in the morning.

Ben agreed strongly with Joe, Adam needed something he could lose himself in, not yet but in a few days when the pain had eased a little and he was stronger, because he was going to have pain for all too long. Nita was less convinced that books would help but if they both thought it would then she went along. It was well worth a try and Carole might be persuaded to relax more often if they could keep her supplied too. Joe knew Carole’s taste was similar to his brother’s at least on fiction and the art books that they both loved, so he could kill two birds with one stone.

Joe got an early start, determined to be back as soon as he could. Adam had been sleeping restlessly when he looked in but Hoss was looking after him, holding him still. Hoss had strongly supported his brother’s errand and promised to keep an eye on everyone until Joe got back.  Johnny would keep things moving up at the main lumber camp and until Adam was better, noone was even considering going out to sort out the mess on the west shore. It could wait; luckily they had been well up on schedule.

It seemed to take a long time on the train but eventually Joe reached Sacramento and it didn’t take long to complete the business for the Ponderosa and then he made his way to the bookshop. It had become well–established in the years since his last major shopping visit for Adam and had developed a rare book section in the interim. Despite the years, the man who ran it recognized Joe and came over to see what he wanted. Joe had already picked up several books but as the owner began showing him the latest additions he added a lot more, Joe put a large pile down on the counter and then wandered over to the rare book section. He stopped suddenly and picked up one large old volume. The bookseller came over and to his surprise Joe asked “Do you have the portfolios which go with this?”

Amazed that he knew enough to ask, the man hastily nodded and collected both the portfolios and an even older book. He had obtained them as special order for a new millionaire with a taste for architecture and big ideas, who had died before they arrived. The widow had flatly refused to waste money on such old, out of date book and noone else had been interested, The two books had cost him two hundred dollars and he’d about given up on them and written it off as a loss, but now this young cowboy was handling them, almost with reverence. Joe looked up from his examination “How much for both of them?”

“They ain’t cheap, collector items.”

“I know what they are, how much?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars the pair.”

Joe grinned “You’ve got a deal, Wrap them separately, I’ll give you my personal bank draft for those, the rest can go on the main account.” As the man looked hesitant, Joe grinned “Sorry thinking aloud. Will you accept a draft on the Ponderosa account? I can get money within the hour if you’d rather.”

“The Ponderosa?”

“Sorry I’m not thinking straight. I’m Joe Cartwright, you have dealt with my older brother Adam.”

Adam was a good customer, indeed he was the only one whom the bookseller had thought might take the two books and now Joe’s purchase of them made sense. He was perfectly happy to take bank drafts, knowing the wealth that backed them and he helped Joe to parcel up the books ready to take home. Joe was well pleased with the variety of book he’d collected but it was the two architectural books that delighted him. He had bought them as a personal present for his brother. One he knew that Adam had tried to buy in London without success. Printed early in the eighteenth century it was Colin Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus with the plans for English country mansions, the other dated 1662 was Inigo Jones’ own ‘Brief discursion concerning the three chief principle’s of Magnificent buildings’ an annotated edition of Palladio’s even earlier ‘Quattra libri dell’ architectura’ Joe knew that his brother admired the simple elegance of Palladio, he had gone with his brother to see the Queen’s house in Greenwich designed by Inigo Jones in Palladian style. If anything could enthral Adam into forgetting his pain these old books just might do so.

Despite the prospect of a long wait for the connecting train Joe caught the night train back to Reno with plenty to think about as he travelled. The stock market was beginning to slide, in more than just the Ophir and everyone seemed on tenterhooks. A few people, recognising him, had even asked his opinion, as a Cartwright he must have inside information. However when Joe said that in his personal opinion that most of the mines were very sound, the Ophir out of line, speculated up high without reason, they wouldn’t believe him. Joe had seen market collapses before and all the signs were there that this would be another. He decided to stop over in Virginia City and have a quick word with his old friend Roy Naylor at his stockbroker’s office and check with the family stockbroker John Marye before heading home.

At the house Ben had tried to get into some sort of routine, some work had to carry on and even with Jess, José and the other hands rallying round there were decisions only he or Hoss could make. Carole was much better and sat with Adam for long hours but she couldn’t take any risks with her own health and her unborn child and with the children as well Sue and Nita were kept busy. Sue slept during the morning and with Hoss split the night-time to nurse Adam but even so Ben was overdoing things and he was very tired and becoming unable to hide it.

Adam was a little stronger, eating better and awake for longer periods, only really getting rest when he gave in and let Sue give him a pain killer, but he still fought against taking drugs. He tried to hide his pain but he couldn’t always mange it and his temper was very erratic, half the time jumping down everyone’s throat for fussing. He tried very hard to hide his temper from Carole and even his father, worried about the tiredness he could see. Hoss took the brunt of Adam’s bad temper, although he’d lashed out verbally at both Sue and Nita, only to apologise a few minutes later, furious with himself and close to breaking down, All of them told him that it didn’t matter but Adam blamed himself, he seemed to have lived in a world where there was only pain forever and although everyone assured him that his back was healthy and even showing signs of healing, the pain just got worse. At times he had to bite on his pillow to prevent himself screaming. The one thing that kept him sane was Carole’s very obvious improvement and he was no longer really worried about her or the child.

As he stayed awake for longer, he tried to lose himself in a book but although he started several nothing really caught his attention. The pain always pushing its way in. There was very little he hadn’t read before and what there was tended to be poetry or too heavy reading, but not wanting to talk the time passed very slowly. Too often while talking the pain caught him and he couldn’t hide it and he hated admitting to it, not wanting to worry Carole or any of the others.

On the morning that Joe reached Virginia City, Adam had been awake very early shortly before four. Hoss was sitting with him and he gave his brother a long drink and then tried to persuade him to take another tablet and get some more rest. Adam refused, already the painkillers seemed to be having less effect although he wasn’t sure whether he was getting too used to the tablets or whether it was the pain getting worse. Either way he would keep the pills for when he was desperate and after some five hours sleep he could cope for now. Hoss knew that it was the pain which had woken his brother, all too clear while Adam was too dopy to hide it but he wouldn’t force his brother. For a while they talked quietly and then Hoss fetched Adam a book he wanted  and Adam tried to concentrate on it. Carole brought him his breakfast and determined not to worry her Adam forced himself to eat it and tried to stay cheerful, chatting about the kids for half an hour. His father looked in for a few minutes and despite the early hour Adam thought that Ben looked tired and as his father went out he turned worriedly to Carole, “Pa’s been overdoing it. Try and make him rest, let things slide.”

“He’s as stubborn as you are darling.”

“I know but at least go and make sure he eats properly.”

“Alright. Time I took your tray down anyway.” Carole kissed him and called Nita in to sit with Adam. Adam loved his wife very much but in some ways it was a relief when she went out and he could allow himself to relax not worry quite so much if his pain showed. Nita sat by him knitting for nearly ten minutes before Adam opened his eyes again. It had only just struck Adam that he hadn’t seen his little brother for a couple of days. “Where’s Joe?”

“He had to go to Sacramento on business, should be back soon, maybe later today.”

Adam knew the business of the ranch, maybe better than anyone and he knew exactly what needed doing in Sacramento. Now with an outlet for his pain and frustration he was furious with Joe and too weak to hide it. “Bloody young fool I thought he’d finally grown up. Messenger boy, anyone could have done it, Jess or even Hank. Just when Pa needs help, he knows Pa’s not fit.” The surge of anger had taken more out of him than he realised and as he fought to control his breathing, Nita worriedly wiped his face “Easy Adam please try and relax. Should I call Sue?”

Knowing that if she did it was bound to worry his father and Carole Adam insisted that she didn’t and after a minute he regained control and had a long drink, “I’m sorry Nita.”

“No need to apologize but don’t be too hard on Joe, he had several things to do and your father agreed it was the most practical solution. Anyway he was hoping to be back this morning so it was only for one day. Quick now with train all the way.”

“Just lashing out for no reason.”

“Forget it we all know how you feel. I just wish there was more that I could do to help, we all do.”

Adam reached out and took her hand, “My little brother’s a lucky man Nita. I did warn you he came complete with a family, sorry we’re such a burden.”

Nita kissed his forehead, “Nonsense, you’re all very special. I came here in love with Joe but I’ve learnt to love you all. You know that don’t you? Just as Joe loves Carole and Sue. I don’t do anything just to please Joe, not now, at first maybe, but not now. Because I want to, because you are important to me, a brother so very different from my own I can’t love Leland but it’s very easy to love you Adam and Hoss.”

Adam held her hand tight for a moment, Nita wasn’t very demonstrative and certainly she had never put things into words before and he was immensely moved by what she’d said. Weak and close to tears he didn’t trust his voice, not that he needed words Nita could see the pleasure in his eyes despite the pain.  She poured him a weak brandy and water and Adam drank it gratefully. Not really well enough for the emotional strain he was almost equally grateful as she changed the subject asking what he might fancy for his lunch.

Adam tried to doze for a while but he was in too much pain for it to be very successful and the morning dragged past seemingly unending so that his temper suffered. The others took it in turns to sit with him but he would really have preferred to be alone, wishing them all to perdition. They could assure him as much as they liked that his back was healing and perfectly healthy all he knew was that the pain was getting worse and stronger in himself he couldn’t even find a temporary oblivion in rest. He couldn’t help himself snapping at everyone, even Carole and at lunchtime he would have liked to throw the tray at her. Fed up with being fed like a baby and yet all the time he was lying flat on his face with one hand out of action there was little choice.

Kam Su had cooked him trout for lunch which Jess had been out early to catch, hoping it might tempt an invalid’s appetite. Adam was touched by the effort and tried but he wasn’t hungry and he only managed half the fish and none of the trimmings. When Carole put the tray aside and asked if he’d like some milk as he hadn’t been able to eat much, Adam couldn’t help himself “No I don’t! Why don’t you all just leave me alone and stop fussing.”

Carole sighed inwardly but before she could answer there was a giggle from the door and Joe came in “You must be getting better big brother. They say it’s always a sign of recovery when invalids get fractious.”

Adam turned on his brother “Where the hell have you been? Gallivanting off to Sacramento. Jess could have done that, Pa’s not fit, getting exhausted, and you should have been here.”

Joe ignored his brother and kissed Carole, “You’re looking wonderful despite your bad tempered husband.”

“He rarely shows it to me.”

“No I guess as always Hoss bears the brunt of it, we all take advantage of his patience. Still I’m back now and he can enjoy himself yelling at me, my shoulders are broad.”

“I am here.” Adam said icily “I don’t like being discussed as though I don’t exist.”

“That don’t even make sense brother! Take his tray down Carole and have your lunch, I’ll sit with him, even have some news which might interest him.”

 Carole picked up the tray but then she hesitated “Have you eaten Joe?”

“I had a huge working breakfast in town around nine so I’m not starved, I’ll get something later.” Joe settled by the bed. He had left the books downstairs for now and just brought up the latest share figures. Adam raised his head “Why did you go Joe? You know Pa’s not fit.”

“Various jobs. Some only I could do and I was only away one day. Pa thought it was worthwhile, I’ll explain later but for now do you want to hear the news from town? That’s what has delayed me or I’d have been back for breakfast.”

Nita slipped in to join them having hastily eaten her own lunch, rather tired and uneasy with Adam so ill, she wanted to be with her husband. Ben recognized that and had told her to go on up, neither of them would mind. She pulled up a chair close to Joe’s and as he put his arm round her she snuggled close. Adam looked a little guilty, “Not just Hoss I’ve been yelling at, I’m sorry Nita.”

“Told you before, it doesn’t matter. Go on Joe I want to know why you were delayed too.”

Joe kissed her quickly and then sat back “Well in both Sacramento and Reno it was very obvious the stock market was on the slide. Huge crowds round the telegraph offices waiting for news and the dial in town is surrounded too. So I decided to see John Marye and Roy collect all the latest news and the gossip before I came home.”

Adam sighed, “The Ophir?”

Joe nodded “Of course. It had reached nearly 300, drastically overpriced, then it began to slide. We had word from John Marye three days back that it was down to 180. Now it’s only at 32. Panic hasn’t quite set in yet but the signs are there and everything is sliding down so far only about 10% on average but it only needs one of the big investors to panic and we’ll have a full scale collapse.”

Adam thought about that for a moment “10%, probably people trying to cover their position buying on margin.”

“That was before this morning’s fall, it went from 120 to 32 while I was in town, poor devil’s trying to cover that will be in real trouble.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing, except ask for regular reports. As you said once before we haven’t the resources to stop a slide at the beginning, even if we decided to act it will have to wait a\ while. We are covered and the Bank is safe, the California and Virginia stock all in our hands.”

Adam said almost bitterly, “I may be stuck in bed but I haven’t lost my brains Joe. I don’t need lecturing on our financial position, I planned it.”

Joe put up his hand in a peace sign “Easy brother I was explaining to Nita not you.”

Adam sighed and Joe gently ruffled his hair, “Want the gossip too?”

As his brother nodded Joe went on, “No proof of course but according to Roy, Sharon started this just as you expected. Now he’s been confirmed as Senator he sold all his Ophir stock at the top of the market. Not only sold but sold short, not that you’d ever prove it. The only surprise is how long it’s taking to build up a real panic.”

Adam wasn’t surprised and asked to see the current figures. Joe passed them over and then turned his attention to Nita, who was looking very puzzled. She knew what buying shares on margin meant but selling short was a new one. Joe hesitated but seeing that he wasn’t going to get any help, he plunged into an explanation while Adam listened slightly amused. At least it took his mind off his pain. Joe said “It means you agree to sell more shares than you actually have.”

As she still looked puzzled Joe organized his thoughts and tried an actual example. “It’s not illegal exactly but chicanery at the least. Let’s say you agree to sell 20 000 shares to each of five men at the market price, 100 000 in all. Now the agreement is made and it’s binding but it’s easy enough to avoid actually producing the share certificates. We’ll say you actually own 50 000 shares and those you do sell. You then make it known as widely as possible what you have done and if you are selling a big enough block and have a reputation for insider information, as Sharon does, then everyone else who owns shares is going to panic. They don’t wait for more information but try to sell before the price drops and with everyone doing the same the price drops very rapidly. It’s easy to buy the extra 50 000 shares you need to complete your original contract at a very low price, but those buyers are committed to the original market price. It leaves you with a big fat profit and the market in chaos.”

Nita looked horrified “It’s legal?”

Joe grinned, “You don’t actually break the law anywhere, just take advantage of the usual delays in business, its fraud really but almost impossible to prove. Rumour knows what is happening but with so many interconnected transactions and people who for their own reasons want then kept quiet, it’s impossible to prove in a court of law. It’s even whispered quietly or Sharon could sue you for slander and probably win.”

Nita was amazed but used to her own father’s chicanery in business, she was hardly shocked. Adam smiled, just about the first that day, “Lucid exposition little brother, you’re improving.”

Joe laughed, “Amuse yourself with those figures I’m going for some lunch be back up afterwards. I have something else to show you.”

As he ate Joe filled Ben and Hoss in on the news from town but they had already done all they could to protect their own position, so it didn’t mean any extra work or decisions, just the need to keep a close eye on the situation. Ben turned the discussion to other work, they couldn’t afford to let things slide for much longer and although Hoss didn’t like the idea he offered to go back to the west shore. He would sort things out, finish up their work for the season and clear the fire devastated area ready for replanting in the autumn. With the telegraph he could stay in close contact and find out how his brother was and with Adam strong enough now to help himself more, Ben and Joe could manage.

Joe would have to go up to the mine and check with José and Jack Catfish up at the sawmill, but he could basically work from the house and help his father. Joe was hoping the new books he had would hold Adam’s attention and distract him from his pain, maybe keep him better tempered. His brother would still need someone with him full time but it wouldn’t be so wearing on them all. With all three girls pregnant and determined none of them or their father should overdo it, Hoss and Joe decided that they would have to get Hop Sing and Kam Su to help out, watching over Adam while he slept. Ben wasn’t sure but Joe would be busy and obviously couldn’t manage single handed and Sue was beginning to look very tired so he gave way. Ben knew that Adam would accept them and both Chinese would be very willing to help.

Carole had gone back up to rejoin Adam and Joe brought in a the large bundle of books to show the others, He had nearly a hundred in all on various subjects ranging from light fiction to history, science and law. Completely unrepentant he told his father that he’d signed a draft on the main account for $853, not that any of them cared about the money, it was well spent if it helped Adam. Hoss was about to open a separate large parcel when Joe took it from him, “No let Adam. This is different a personal present from me.” He smiled sheepishly “I even gave a separate draft from my own account, a sort of unbirthday present. Help me take the others up.”

While Adam hadn’t exactly guessed what his brother had been up to he wasn’t altogether surprised either as his family came in laden with books. He caught Joe’s eye “So that’s why you had to go to Sacramento, I should have known, Again I’m sorry little brother.”

“Easy trip this time and you’d been bemoaning the lack of anything new to read so I thought I’d bring you a selection.” Joe took his brother’s hand for a moment and feeling the tension in him gave him a drink “The bookseller sends his regards, he even recognised me from our last foray.”

 Adams smiled and not wanting to show how he felt with all of them there he concentrated on reading the tittles as they were stacked up on the table by his bed. There were a wide range of things Joe knew his taste very well and there were a couple he had particularly wanted including one he’d been after for a long time, published over forty years earlier it was George Catlin’s ‘Letters and Notes on Manners, Customs and Conditions of North American Indians.’ There were two volumes and Adam asked for the first one. Carole was about to hand it to him when Joe said “Just wait a minute before we lose you in a book.”

Adam looked up “How do I say thank you Joe? As before you know my taste so well and what I already have.”

“No need for thanks.”

“I dread to think how much you spent.”

“Oh the ranch can afford it. I billed the main account, gift for all of us, we all borrow your books and it might help your temper.”

Adam grinned at that but he was still waiting to see why Joe wanted him to wait before looking at the books and he frowned a little puzzled. Joe hesitated, almost embarrassed, even though it was only his family which puzzled Adam even more, unable to understand the expression on his little brother’s face. Joe went out onto the landing and brought in the other parcel. He had undone the string and the ends just leaving loose paper to cover it that his brother could handle. He went over to the bed, “I did treat you to a little something myself brother.”

“It’s not my birthday.”

“No but... Just a thank you Adam, for so many things, my house and others. Open it.”

Adam frowned but as Joe turned and poured himself a brandy he clumsily undid the parcel Joe had put on the bed. The others were as intrigued as he was and looked at each other, rather puzzled, as the paper revealed two obviously old books and two large portfolios. Adam’s hand was shaking as he read the title Vitruvius Brittannicus and he looked up at Joe completely incapable of speech. Joe poured another brandy and came over to hear Adam breath, “Inigo Jones” in a mixture of awe and disbelief, Joe was grinning very broadly and as Adam read the title page the expression on his brother’s face would have been worth ten times the  price he’d paid for the books. Ben and Carole had both made out the title of the first book and knew of it, remembering how Adam had once tried to buy a copy only he was outbid and that one had been incomplete, one portfolio missing.

Adam was so weak that very moved by his brother’s gift he couldn’t help himself and burying his face in the pillow he gave way to tears. Joe sat down on the bed very gingerly and stroked his brother’s hair “Easy Adam, presents are supposed to cheer you up, easy now, please drink this brandy.”

Adam let Joe feed him the brandy and wipe his face but he still couldn’t find his voice and Joe sat by him ignoring everyone else, talking quietly to his brother until Adam had regained his control. Eventually Adam reached out and gripped his brother’s hand “Joe I ....”

“No need to say anything Adam, I just hope you enjoy them.”

“Enjoy...” Adam let go of his brother’s hand and touched the older book reverently, “I saw this at the British Museum Library but I never dreamt of owning a copy, You know what it means to me Joe, at least I hope you do, I don’t know how to say thank you.”

“Just luck, He had got them in specially and then the bloke who’d ordered them died and his wife refused out of date books. Reckon he was grateful to have them taken off his hands.”

Adam touched the book very carefully hardly daring to open it and then looked up and for the first time became aware of the rest of his family. He smiled at them “Sorry for the exhibition. Joe’s just not predictable, two real collector’s items, amongst the earliest books on architecture, the style I admire Palladian.”

Joe was passing out coffee “As I said a pure fluke.”

“Maybe little brother but you knew enough to know what they were and that I would want them, not many people would have recognised them.”

Joe laughed “Considering you dragged me half round London looking for that Vitruvius Brittannicus, I’m not likely to forget.”

“I didn’t” Adam said outraged but catching the twinkle in his brother’s eye he realised he was being teased and relaxing more than he had in days he grinned to everyone’s relief. Although he sipped his coffee he was oblivious of everyone, even Carole. and of the discussions going on, his eyes kept straying back to the Inigo Jones.

Hoss was the first to move, “Come on Sue we might as well leave him to it, we won’t get any sense out of Adam for the next couple of days.”

Adam looked up and Hoss grinned at him “Enjoy your books, reckon Joe chose well. I’ll see you later.”

The others decided to leave him to it as well and Ben, Nita and Joe all got to their feet. Carole was already looking through one of the portfolios but Adam said “Little Joe.”

Carole put the book down “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes Joe,” and then headed out with Ben and Nita, Ben looked more cheerful than he had in days, “Joseph knows his brother so very well.”

Carole nodded “Adam’s delighted, if anything can take his mind off his pain those old books will do it.”

 Nita bit her lip “I don’t think I’d realised how weak he was, upset.”

 Carole shook her head “Weak yes but not upset, over-emotional, he’s had a lot of pain.”

“I’m not criticising him, God only knows how he keeps as bright as he does.”

“Plain obstinacy. Anyway Joe will calm him down, that’s why I’ve left them alone for a few minutes.”

Ben put his arm round each girl’s shoulders “Carole’s right, Leave Adam to his brother for a few minutes and then he can lose himself in those books. You two come and have a coffee.”

Inside Joe said “Are you alright Adam? Maybe I should have waited until we were alone.”

“No matter, all family, they know me and they’ll make excuses for my exhibition.”

“No excuses needed, you’re just weak, easily moved, it happens.”

Adam sighed, “Overemotional.” It wasn’t something he often showed in public but he wasn’t that worried either, “That wasn’t why I asked you to stay Joe.”

“Something equally unnecessary by my guess. When we tried to say thank you for our houses you firmly shut us up. This is just a small token and I don’t want thanks either, it’s not necessary.” Adam lifted his head and studied his brother’s face and then he smiled and offered his hand, Joe gripped it almost formally. “Just enjoy them and if it helps you at all through these next few days I’ll be repaid ten times over. I know Doc’s been too right again, the pain is worse now that it was, isn’t it?”

Adam couldn’t deny it and wouldn’t admit it and Joe ruffled his hair, “I know it is but in another day or so it should start to ease, pray God, I know that doesn’t help much now but if you need to let the stiff upper lip go for a while just send for me, I understand and I don’t scare easy.”

Joe grinned down at him and Adam relaxed again, all of them would understand but he wouldn’t upset his wife or his father and although fond of Nita and Sue he couldn’t relax completely with them, not the way he could with his brothers. “I’m so glad you’re back Joe.”

“I’ll be around for the next couple of days, look after things here. Now I’ll get out let Carole come back, you’re okay for now?”

“Sure and thanks Joe, for everything.”

Joe wasn’t surprise to find Carole outside the door and he held it open for her. Adam was already studying the drawings in fascination. Throughout the afternoon and evening Adam slowly turned the pages of the old book, sometimes amused by the flowery descriptions he broke out into spontaneous laughter for the first time since his injury. The pain was still severe but he could push it to one side most of the time and relaxed it wasn’t quite so bad. He even managed a decent dinner and when Sue had given him a tablet settled to sleep with his mind full of villas and his brain pleasantly tired. He was asleep within minutes more peacefully than he had been so far. When Joe came in soon after one to let Hoss get some rest before heading out to the west shore, Hoss moved over to the window. Very quietly he said “Been resting easier than I’ve seen. Those books were a stroke of genius, Little Joe. I’ll go off in the morning with an easier mind than I’d have believed possible.”

“He’s always needed mental simulation, even when he’s weak. I’ll hang on here for a couple of days until the pain eases before I go up to the mine.”

You’ll keep me informed Joe, you personally/”

“Sure and I promise no covering up. I’ll let you know exactly how he is and if there was any reason I’ll be in touch at once.”

“I know Joe, thank God for that telegraph, real inspiration of yours.”

“Go to bed big brother, I’ll see you at breakfast.” Joe settled down by the bed putting on a small lamp and began reading one of the novels he had bought. Two hours later Adam began moaning and Joe moved to hold his brother still as Adam tossed restlessly, not fully awake yet. The effect of the painkiller had worn off and the pain had come back full force. Adam hadn’t much idea what was happening just that he mustn’t cry out and he was biting on his knuckle. Joe could only hold him still and wipe his face but it was several minutes before Adam really woke up and was aware of what was happening. He tensed against the pain although he knew it wouldn’t help, but he couldn’t stop himself.  Joe picked up the tablets Sue had left. “Take another one of these Adam.”

“No. Don’t have any effect if I take too many.”

“You need one Adam you can’t carry on like this.”

“Drink.” Joe fed his brother a weak brandy and water while Adam woke up properly and struggled for control but all he was aware of was pain, wave after wave of agony in which he seemed to be drowning. The pain brought tears to his eyes and tensing he made it worse, Joe could feel the tension in Adam, but although he tried to persuade his brother to relax, he sensed Adam wasn’t aware of any of his words. In desperation Joe sat down on the bed and lifted his brother’s head onto his lap and stroked his hair hoping to calm Adam with his close physical contact. Over and over he told Adam to give way, noone else was there and maybe he needed to cry away his agony. For a long time Adam didn’t seem aware that he was there let alone what he was saying but eventually Adam gave way and sobbed out some of his tension and pain. Adam was scared despite Doc’s prognosis, the pain was worse every day and he couldn’t take much more, scared it meant some sort of infection. He wasn’t very coherent as he told his little brother, his thoughts jumbled and his voice muffled against Joe and drowned by sobs but Joe didn’t need any long explanations. He could understand his brother’s unspoken fears and knew just how bad the pain was, sure it would do Adam good to get it out of his system.

Joe made no attempt to stop him just holding him still, stroking his hair, until Adam fell quiet. Only then did Joe speak “Easy brother easy. I’ve never lied to you, not with any success anyway, Trust me there’s nothing wrong, all perfectly healthy, beginning to heal. Doc warned you the nerve endings start to reform, create merry hell for you but it’s inevitable, normal. Nothing to worry about, you just have to live through it. I know that’s easier said than done brother but it will pass, soon now.”

Adam relaxed, Joe wouldn’t lie to him, his fears were baseless and he felt better for letting it all go, getting it out in the open. For several minutes they sat close in silence and then Adam raised his head, “I need a drink Joe.”

Joe got up and fetched one and a tablet, “Now for once you are going to do as you’re told. You need some more rest. Six hours isn’t enough, not when you’re weak and ill. Sure they’ll gradually lose their effectiveness but it’s now that you need them. In another day or so it should have eased considerably.”

“Doc warned me, can get dependent.”

Joe smiled wryly “Sure but you’re the last person in the world to get dependent, too bloody obstinate.”

“Pretty dependent on my family.”

“Mutual brother. Often enough you make me do what you want, this time I’m in charge. Take it.”

Adam could see he had no choice and he gave way, it was all he really wanted, Joe reiterated his reassurances as Adam slowly drifted asleep again and then content his brother was resting he finished his book. He hadn’t been lying when he said he wasn’t easily frightened and he was very glad to see his brother break down, sure he needed it. He’d known anyway just how much pain Adam was in and guessed his fears.

Joe let Ben take over while he joined Hoss for breakfast and although both of them were surprised to find Adam still asleep. Joe didn’t mention the night-time interlude and Adam was so very peaceful that both were glad to see him getting the rest he needed. As though in sympathy with her husband Carole slept in late too so Nita was looking after the twins and Marie.

Hoss said goodbye to his wife and his family before riding out to the west shore, reasonably happy about his brother and at least in contact with the house.

In some ways that night proved a turning point, once Adam finally awoke the long sleep and breaking down combined to leave him more in control. With books to read he could ignore the pain and by late evening he thought it was beginning to ease a little. It was very gradual but by the time Doc returned two days later it was considerably easier. Adam had welcomed visits from Jess and José and a couple of other close friends, very much stronger in himself so that Joe had risked leaving the house.

Doc was delighted with his progress, healing fast as usual. The whole damaged area was now covered with new skin forming and dry, so Doc gave way to Adam’s insistent demands to let him get up and dressed. He was stiff and sore from lying in bed and fed up with being so dependent on others. His hand was not so far advanced with deeper injuries and it was bothering Adam more than he would admit but it was healthy as far as Doc could see. Doc warned Adam to take it very easy and gave Sue strict instructions, but reassured Ben that his son was making a remarkable recovery.

Sue brought over a couple of Hoss’ shirts, big enough to slip on easily and not pull over his back and if not quite his normal elegant self, it made everyone feel better just to see him dressed and downstairs. They had a job to keep the children off him as they were so delighted to see him but Adam was equally pleased to see them. Ben got his son settled on a chair at the table so he could rest his arm if he needed to and with the wall at his back he was protected from accidental knocks and then watched Adam relax. The lines of pain eased as Adam smiled gently at his children’s stories as they vied with each other to tell Daddy what they had been doing since he last saw them.

Carole had settled next to her husband just relieved to see him so much better and Ben stood over by the fire watching them, very content that the disaster which had threatened with the electric storm had done its worst and yet they had all survived.